Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 112
Edward Bond 1934–
English playwright, poet, scriptwriter, and translator.
Bond's strong opinions and ideals concerning politics, religion, and human relations are manifest in the themes of his controversial and thought-provoking plays. Bond writes extensive prefaces to explain the overwhelming violence, absurdity, and allegory of his plays, and to outline his...
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- Critical Essays
Edward Bond 1934–
English playwright, poet, scriptwriter, and translator.
Bond's strong opinions and ideals concerning politics, religion, and human relations are manifest in the themes of his controversial and thought-provoking plays. Bond writes extensive prefaces to explain the overwhelming violence, absurdity, and allegory of his plays, and to outline his belief that the inherent function of the theater is to provoke social change. As the program notes to Saved explain, "Unless we can use the theatre as a platform on which to demonstrate the serious problems of today, particularly violence, we feel that we are not serving a useful purpose in society."
(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 6, 13 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2799
[Bond makes] a vital distinction between himself and those writers who use theatrical violence—or sex, for that matter—to outrage an audience and to give it, as it were, a necessary kick. Such writing and staging implicitly affirms that the staged action is aimed at an audience by one who feels superior to it. One of Bond's more remarkable qualities is that he assumes he is like his audience, and that his concerns are the same as its own…. His critical reception, however, has certainly not borne out his confidence that he is a typical member of his society…. [Despite] the welcome relaxation of hostility in the last two or three years, Bond's public reputation as a dramatist still hardly compares with that of Arden, or Pinter, or ever Wesker or Osborne…. Even the mostly favorable reception of The Sea in England stressed, time after time, that for once the audience could rest assured that it wouldn't be shocked and horrified. And the publicity that surrounded the London production of Bingo continually underlined what was seen as shocking and iconoclastic in the play. In a sense, these reactions are right; Bond has succeeded in catching his audience on one weak spot after another, which suggests that he has been right in writing the plays he has. But in another way, such reactions are quite wrong, because such attention shows that his audiences have not recognized or experienced the situations in his plays; they have seen them as simply distasteful, as belonging not to them but to other people; and so have neutralised the plays.
It is hard to watch the baby being stoned in Saved. But people often feel that there must be something hardboiled in the dramatist who chooses to put it in a play. Bond puts the stoning into Saved precisely because he finds it revolting and intolerable; but he finds what happens to the baby no more revolting than what happens to its mother and father, Pam and Fred, even though they remain alive. He knows that we would normally assume that their lives, even in deprivation, were "better" than the state of the dead baby. He questions that, and makes us ask if our compassion and shock at the baby's death are simply going where habit and sentimentality make it easy for them to go. Bond finds both things horrible: the lives of Pam and Fred, and the family if anything more horrible. He challenges an audience that would like to find horror only in the death of the baby. And the violence in his plays is always a statement or question about us, about our relative valuation of violence, about our own judgement of our behaviour. If we see Fred and Pete and Colin and Barry and Mike in Saved simply as young thugs who need putting away, then we have missed the point—though that is a natural and conventional reaction. If we say, alternatively, that they are poor unfortunates who need doctors, not prisons, then we have missed the point just as much. If we have to confess that our reactions worry us, then we are getting somewhere. More is involved than horror or distaste or judgement if we are responsible members of our society, and know what we do as fathers and mothers and governments. Our reaction of horror lets us off too lightly, and isolates us in a secure sense of what is proper. And Bond is always challenging our sense of what is proper: proper as hope, proper as tragedy, proper as ourselves.
He can do this because he is so good at creating "the kind of situation in which violence occurs." The situations at the start of his plays are directly responsible for the situations at the end, even though the plays often begin quietly and normally. When we see the provincial vicarage society of The Sea, or the group of boys at the start of The Pope's Wedding, or Pam and Len at the start or Saved, or the autumnal calm at the start of Bingo, then we tend to accept them as 'normal' situations. But Bond is working out his sense of the horror and deficiency of what can be seen every day; for instance, Scopey's lunatic situation at the end of The Pope's Wedding, with a month-old corpse on the floor beside him, follows implicitly from his reaction to the life we saw in that first, 'normal' scene. Not that Bond's audience has generally managed to see that direct relationship on its first viewing of the plays—it has complained, instead, that violence erupts spontaneously and gratuitously in Bond. Audiences at first tend to see one thing, to which they have a shock reaction, and to stop there. But the theatrical experience encourages us to get over our first reactions to both 'normal' and 'abnormal', and to see something else instead. The family of Saved, which we thought at first was just ordinary, turns out to be appalling; and we want to say something like "what a way to live—how unbearable—thank God I don't have to live like that." In the end, however, the play forces us to say something like "that is life for people in my society: and people like Len can bear it, and live well in it." Bond is always wanting us to see things more fully than our normal habits allow us to and, so, to realise the terms of our lives more acutely; and so, to know better what we need…. In short, the violence—or the apparent abnormality—is designed to provoke an awareness in us, and to make us recognize what we normally prefer not to recognize. We recognize things in the same way, and at the same rate, as the characters on stage can.
The Pope's Wedding, staged in 1962, contains within it the germ of almost everything Bond has done. It is an intensely intellectual play which is yet not in the least didactic; it has the fluid sequence Bond prefers for the kind of play he wants to write (for his plays do not develop, in the usual sense, but group and regroup until their conclusions become inescapable); it has the innovations of staging—here, the cricket match; it has the dialogue which looks so clumsy on the printed page but which is utterly precise and direct; above all, the concerns of the play are made wholly theatrical. The familiar scene with which the play starts turns out to be, itself, something horrifying. Scopey is a farm-worker with no sense of a life outside the routine of getting up the next day for work; we see him with his mates who have, like him, no solutions apart from going on to the next day. He marries Pat, an eighteen-year-old with no parents, and similarly without a future…. They have sex to look forward to, and that is practically all, apart from the vague hope of getting a house of their own. They just go on together, as they had previously gone on separately. Normally we accept the fact that there are thousands of married couples like Sco and Pat; we may thank our lucky stars that we are not like them, but they are common enough. We forget that life lived in such conditions of emptiness is intolerable. It is one of the most common of all contemporary human experiences, and it is intolerable…. Life revolves around the job, the home, the pub, the monthly interest payments. Scopey, however, is remarkable, becouse he tries to behave as a human being in his situation; he wants a Pope's Wedding with another kind of life, where people talk to each other, where there is relationship and the chance to care.
Just outside the village, in a corrugated iron hut, lives as old man—Alen—for whom Pat is in some way responsible; she promised her mother to look after him…. Scopey is attracted to the old man; the hut is on his way home from work, and he offers to take over. Scopey and Alen are both unsure and suspicious of each other, but it becomes possible for the two of them to talk, to share talk, and to share feelings…. Scopey ends up wanting to be like Alen because the old man is enviable in his kind of last-ditch invulnerability; he becomes him by dressing in his clothes, killing him, and living in his hut. He surrounds himself with tinned food so that he won't even need Alen's dependencies on other people. The end is horrifying not just because of the month-old corpse on the floor …, it is horrifying because this is how Scopey ends. Beyond the others in the play, he was aware and alive; he is now ending up an isolated lunatic because he wanted that Pope's Wedding with another kind of life…. [The others] go on, untouched, in their terrifying normality, just as the group we saw at the start of the play goes on. The Pope's Wedding differs from the plays Bond was to write later because Scopey is left in his hopelessness: a Pope's Wedding "isn't going to happen … can't happen." (pp. 466-68)
In his next play, Saved, the home life of the family is simpler, more realistic, and far more dreadful, than the home life of The Pope's Wedding. Again, the ending is crucial to the way we understand the beginning. We start with Len trying to make a relationship with Pam, and being taken into the family; we end with him accepting the family in his own way, in a scene that typifies Bond's dramatic method…. The play is an assertion of possibility where we, as the audience, had begun by seeing the normal; had seen it as dreadful; and might have seen a situation of final hopelessness.
That sense of possibility has come to be vital in Bond's plays; it is something they return to time after time, and realise dramatically in the teeth of what we had thought was hopeless. Len can stay with the family and not be destroyed by the experience. (p. 470)
Saved had set out to be utterly truthful about the life of the family and the child, and had depended on that realism for the power of its resolution (and for the ironic optimism of its title.) Lear sets out to be truthful about the realities of government to just the same degree, and still tries to say that the individual need not be hopeless. Lear is avowedly tragic but, as D. H. Lawrence said, tragedy has nothing to do with misery; it is the assertion of a life, not the capitulation of one. (p. 473)
Tragedy is a matter of not dying, of not resigning oneself. And Bond's Lear does not die—he is killed. Lear has been responsible for the direction of the state toward self-defence and stability-at-all-costs; he has to live with the consequences of that in the lives of the people round him. His own suffering is easier to bear than theirs. And he has to face the fact that he can do nothing himself to change things. Changing himself does not change his society. All he can do is live out an idea, the idea of pity, and this is all he can appeal to at the end of the play…. (p. 473)
In rehearsal at the Royal Court, Bond is reported to have said that "Lear hears all the victims cry, all the people who have ever passed through the court room." It is what all Bond's plays want us to consider as the bedrock of our actual experience, beneath the everyday normality; and it has to be confronted: "turn back and look into the fire." The play is a mechanism for ensuring that we do that. Our experience when we do so is like Lear's: it takes him, and us, to the end of the play to be able to think at all [optimistically]…. (p. 474)
If there is to be a criticism to be made of Bingo, it should not be of Bond's use of history or of his use of the Welcombe enclosure affair; he has been scrupulous and, given the need for compression, exact. The most common recent criticism of him has been that his apocalyptic messages outstrip his dramatic performances, but I am not particularly conscious of that, either. It is not the intellectual substance of Bingo that is worrying, but the staging of people whose lives are symbolic beyond the realities of their world. Bingo offers us something very unusual in Bond: a very narrow range of human experience. Combe is a simpler and less interesting figure than Basho, or Shogo, or Cordelia and the Carpenter in Lear—characters whose toughness and practical politics were offered as representative of the kind of society to which we are accustomed. Combe is almost wholly functional. He isn't cardboard, because his language is vivid and convincing, but his function seems more important than his dramatic presence. The same is true of the Young Woman; it is significant that four of the play's central characters are called Old Man, Old Woman, Son, and Young Woman. Their roles and functions are most of the time more important than their individuality; and though it is doubtless part of Bond's point that only the gentry in this society have much individuality, that is a dramatist's point, not a dramatic reality. Even the briefly named and occasional characters of The Pope's Wedding, like Bill, Ron, Len, Lorry and Joe, are more themselves than these central characters. It is as if Bond found himself having to write a modern morality play…. Exactly as in a morality play, there is a structure, a limiting structure, which our minds have to find congenial before the play can make more than incidental sense. Bond's Shakespeare opts for security and financial advantage; when he realises the implications of that, the contradiction is so overpowering that he has to kill himself. The fable is a difficult one because it is so much a moral fable; in the language I have been using to talk about Bond's theatre, we are not in Bingo encouraged to confront, be shocked, recognize, and understand these things but, instead, to see what we ought to believe. The images used by the play (such as the gibetted young woman) are, accordingly, functional; they support a point of view. Our job as an audience is not to learn how to recognize ourselves, but simply to learn from what we are shown; the characters are functional because it is our job to understand their function. I don't believe that they move inside us, as a worrying part of our own humanity, with the insistence of, say, the characters of The Sea. Bond himself clearly finds the experiences of the play immensely real and immediate, but I suggest that they belong more to his own energetic exploration of the past, and of Shakespeare, than they do to us. The play presents his findings rather than his exploration. And in a way it is the least independent of his plays; it depends on our knowing the continuing debate between Bond and his plays, and on our thinking along the lines of the author. It develops its own dramatic metaphors, which would arouse and compel our acceptance, least of all his plays. Only the character of Shakespeare himself sometimes transcends these limitations; and even then we watch his suicide, as we watch that of Kiro, without the added context of that assertion of inescapable life. It is in fact an end remarkably like that of Scopey; that of the man isolated by seeing further than other men, and a victim of his own understandings and self-hatred. Put simply it constitutes a shock without finally leading us into a recognition of ourselves. (pp. 477-78)
In the dynamic relationship between the play and its audience, Bond is wanting our experience of change and understanding to open our own eyes; and he may shock us. But the shock is, finally, the momentary thing, and what we are being shocked into is the important thing—a recognition of ourselves and our society. Our experience of Bond's theatre is that of the shock of recognition rather than that of the shock of horror. He insists, convincingly, that he is like us, and that we are society, like him; he wants us to experience the recognition of what that implies; and I suggest that, in all his plays up to Bingo, what we share with him makes the experience possible. (p. 479)
John Worthen, "Endings and Beginnings: Edward Bond and the Shock of Recognition," in Educational Theatre Journal (© 1975, University College and Theatre Association of the American Theatre Association), Vol. 27, No. 4, December, 1975, pp. 466-79.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1961
The problems Bond has had, and still has, in finding acceptance as a writer of great quality may have to do with his ease of passage from one theatre form to another. Another obstacle to easy acceptance is that he dares to make large theatrical statements about the kind of complex issues which a basically philistine and fragmented culture such as ours finds it embarrassing or portentuous to discuss.
What is Bond, then? A philosopher or a propagandist? A theatre technician or a literary artist? The truth is, of course, that he is a playwright, like Brecht, who combines all these skills. Like Brecht, he turns his hand to many different forms, and like Brecht, his writing can be complex to express the complexity of an issue or simple to express its urgency.
When he started seriously to write for the theatre, Bond saw a span of plays that began with The Pope's Wedding and ended with The Sea. After that, he wrote three plays, Bingo, The Fool, and a new play The Woman—Scenes of Freedom, set in the Trojan Wars. These are historical plays, whose function is to demythologise eras which might tempt us to see them as 'golden'. That series of three plays is now over, and Bond has embarked upon a third phase of writing, beginning with a reworking of the Basho story, and entitled The Bundle. The distinguishing feature of this third series of plays seems to be a growing sense of confidence: "We mustn't write only problem plays, we must write answer plays—or at least plays which make answers clearer and more practical. When I wrote my first plays I was naturally conscious of the weight of the problem. Now I've become more conscious of the strength of human beings to provide answers. The answers aren't always light, easy or even straightforward, but the purpose—a socialist society—is clear."
The immediate future, with economic recession inevitably limiting the production of uncommercial large-scale work, may prove difficult, but Bond will certainly continue to write challenging and disturbing plays. There is no one else working today with his combination of poetic imagination, sound theatrecraft, and an intense, generous confidence in people. (p. 21)
Edward Bond is an atheist and a humanist. These are facts basic to an understanding of what goes on in his plays, His work invariably embodies a tough critique of the unholy alliance between religion and political power. Sometimes religious belief is shown to be a poisonous soil from which grow cruel and destructive weeds, and sometimes it is seen to be appropriated, after the event, as a cloak to hide the real business of power. But Bond's analysis searches deeper than the outward show of religious belief. In the end, he attacks a frame of mind which hands over to gods (and even to men who try to transform themselves into gods) responsibility for what happens to human beings. His criticisms of religious thinking form the vanguard of an assault upon all structures, political, social, and psychological, that confine human freedom.
Bond's plays are, nevertheless, haunted by religious ideas, images and characters, in much the same way that our irreligious and fragmented culture is still haunted by the ghosts of its believing past. When he writes about religion, it is often as superstition, as a specific fantasy generated by a culture and consolidated in individual minds, whose function is to cope with material fears and anxieties. (p. 22)
Black Mass and Passion, Bond's first two short plays written for specific political movements, proclaim their religious preoccupation in their titles. Both, indeed, feature Jesus Christ as a main character. Black Mass takes place in a church. The Prime Minister of South Africa takes communion while outside, his soldiers and policemen massacre demonstrators. When he and the priest leave the church to fraternise with the victorious troops, in a stunningly deadpan coup de theatre Christ nips off the cross and poisons the communion wine. Instead of guying or parodying Christ, in both this play and in Passion Bond responds fully to the human figure on the Cross, while Christ as a spiritual figure is shown as a character to be pitied, his holiness as a retarding affliction. (p. 29)
Christ in Passion is a more serious-minded gentleman. He arrives in a post-holocaust wilderness, with Buddha as a faithful sidekick, to find various English ruling-class characters chatting about how to build a facsimile of the society which has just destroyed itself. While these are delightful caricatures of very dangerous people, Bond again searches out the human, fallible and therefore dignified dimension of Christ…. Christ and Buddha, gentle people both, and agonised guardians of Good, are well-meaning incompetents, quite unable to cope with the material problems of humanity….
Bond's criticism of religion is thorough and yet curiously yielding. His achievement has been to create theatre which is Marxist in that his characters are the products of social processes, whose motivations and actions find their energy in social relationships. This doesn't imply a simplistic or determinist idea of human nature. On the contrary, Bond is a playwright who reconstitutes the idea of Free Will for human beings, and his fundamental objection to religious belief is that it takes responsibility away from human beings. It is, in its way, an ecstatic conviction. Bond is so impressed by the unrealised potential in human nature that idea-systems like religion which devalue Man before God, serve only to smother alarming and beautiful energies. (p. 30)
One of the most contentious issues in revolutionary argument must be the use of force first to make revolution and then to sustain it. This issue is tackled by Bond in Lear. The play is about the tragic nature of history, particularly revolutionary history, and it is tragic because, as Brecht said, 'The sufferings of this man appal me because they are unnecessary'. Those who oppose change, even for the noblest reasons, usually see the tragedy and the suffering only in the act of revolution…. [However,] violence is woven firmly into the fabric of society long before revolution comes along to tear it apart. The peace enjoyed by Shakespeare in Bingo is full of violence because it cannot be separated from the violent society outside his walled garden. This whole action is seen at work in Lear. The King shares responsibility not just for the political situations which he sets up, but also for the actions of his daughters, who rebel against him, and for the revolutionary Cordelia, who rebels against all three. This structure of cause-and-effect operates throughout the play. The soldiers and labourers in the first scene are part of a machine created by Lear to protect his kingdom from attack. In so doing, he creates slaves by forcing men from their homes, families and livelihoods to build the Wall. The wall that defends society becomes a prison wall that confines it, and this structure of oppression reaches back into history…. Lear doesn't understand that using terror to protect 'his' people from foreign injustice and aggression simply ensures that it thrives at home. His passion for isolation is born of a fatal, sentimental misunderstanding of his own power which he passes on like some hereditary disease to his daughters. (pp. 46-7)
While every Bond play is in some sense political, all of the short plays and the opera libretto have been overtly so. The first fruit of his collaboration with the composer Hans-Werner Henze, the opera libretto We Come to the River, is a reworking of some of the themes of responsibility and political power of Lear…. It tells the story of a victorious general who is told by his doctor that he will go blind. The news makes him consider the suffering he has caused, and so he begins to subvert the ruling order…. The play ends with all the dead victims of state terror returning solemnly to the stage while the inmates of the asylum smother the general who, though blind, threatens their spurious peace. While the Mad People play in a fantasy world, the resurrected dead make their own claim for eventual victory through the strength and determination of all oppressed people. The sense of hope, achieved despite terrible suffering, in [the] final anthem, must answer those who query Bond's faith in the possibility of a successful revolution, or in the possibility of any human progress at all. (pp. 48-9)
Bond's plays are about the strengths, real and potential, of individuals in social situations. His politics insist that despite the compromises and failures, a commitment to human freedom must not be lost, that change is possible, that human beings can take control of their lives, that they are, finally, rational. (p. 53)
Bond's plays show social processes in action, so his characterisation is firmly rooted in particular classes and societies. The actor has, therefore, to contact his audience primarily through the social detail and political facts that Bond offers. This is not to say that all character is reducible to some stereotyped class role or fuction, only that no characters exist apart from society and social pressures. (p. 73)
One of the great reassurances for the actor in a Bond play, and at the same time one of the great challenges, must be the author's craftsmanship of language. His language can be divided into three broad categories, but what really distinguishes Bond is his ability to mix and juxtapose these styles while still maintaining an inner logic. One such style is the 'pared-down naturalism' … which is, strictly speaking, not naturalistic at all. This is the language of Saved, where sentences are short and unrhetorical, in speeches which are also short, and in a specific dialect. It has the surface appearance of one kind of working-class speech, but it is dialogue which distils from its source a powerful dramatic poetry. Bond recognises that there are great strengths in working-class speech, strengths which come from a culture which is mainly oral rather than literary…. The strength of this kind of dialogue is that it is emotionally honest and accurate, the most precise language for the characters' feelings. It contains very little rhetoric, and is about the specifics of experience.
It is no accident, then, that some of the most memorable uses of language occur in the speech of working-class characters, using their natural dialect or accent. (p. 76)
When he turns to a more open and expressionistic style of play with Early Morning, a new kind of dialogue appears, a very funny, formal parody of the speech of the middle and upper classes. It is a style that satirises the moral evasions made possible by cultivated speech, and the inability to deal with real experience….
The third broad category is the language that some characters use at moments of discovery and learning, a language which is often full of beautiful, formal writing. It is a language of soliloquy, and so it is often honest and direct, but it is also reflective, summing up experience rather than expressing it as it happens. (p. 77)
It would be possible to plunder the history of literature, theatre and art finding echoes, influences and quotations in Edward Bond's plays. He is almost unfashionably widely-read, a happy result perhaps of having had no formal education at all. Certain names though, such as Shakespeare, Chekhov and Blake, are unavoidable. It is Brecht's name, however, that occurs most frequently in discussion about Bond….
In the end, what is vitally important about Bond's work is its dogged and insistent glorying in humanity and its possibilities. Inseparable from that quality of vision is a remarkable technical and artistic skill. Together, the two qualities offer indispensable visions for our dangerous and despairing times. (p. 83)
Tony Coult, in his The Plays of Edward Bond (copyright © 1977 by Tony Coult), Eyre Methuen, 1977, 87 p.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543
At the end of Edward Bond's impressive new play The Woman there is blood on the stage and the courts and temples of capitalism have begun to crumble. The Dark Man, a nameless runaway cripple, his skin blackened by a life of slavery in the silver mines, has killed the all but nameless Heros. Who is Heros? The richest and most handsome man in Athens, imperial centre built of silver from those mines. The play is political allegory and would be incoherent in any other terms. But Bond is too perceptive to present the issues in black and white—or rather silver and black—and the complexity of image and ideal is the work's great strength. But this makes it difficult—scarcely accessible to the common people it champions….
The Woman has a Timon-like split structure, divided between war and peace, culture and nature, blindness and vision….
[It] tries hard to be a feminist play. The men are brutish and callous. Hecuba and Ismene are subtle, imaginative and uncorrupted. I oversimplify in order to argue that this underlying contrast is nothing new (it is common in Greek tragedy); nor is it very helpful. It does not help women to find real influence in addition to moral superiority, nor does it help men to yield privilege or to live down their inherited burden of guilt. The cause of women is not served by the simple expurgation of the great sexist myths, in annihilating Clytemnestra or by turning deadly Helen into a lifeless statue….
But has Bond drawn real inspiration from the spring of Greek tragedy? There are perfunctory acknowledgements of Euripides' Hecuba and his Trojan Women, eyes are cut out Oedipusfashion, Ismene recalls Sophocles' Antigone rather than her own namesake. But the ancients are chiefly exploited for comic anachronism and for contemputuous gibes…. Rather than respect the universality and humanity of Greek literature, Bond evidently feels that a good revolutionary must scorn "the classics" as a symbol of elitism and hypocrisy.
Yet his most important difference from Greek tragedy is not, I suspect, a matter of outright rejection. The burden of ancient tragedy lies in the tensions between and within individual, family and city. In The Woman the first two of these elements are so far subordinate to the third that their primal emotional powers are all but abandoned….
It may be a pity that Bond has not responded more to Greek tragedy, for he strives similarly to embody the universal, to particularize the archetypal. By diminishing the status of the individual and, above all, of the family he loses that direct emotional access to our minds and so produces something too like a political tract, full of wise saws and modern instances. This may be exemplified by his failure to manage really powerful and significant stagecraft: the actions and objects lack direct human meaning because they are political ciphers…. This may be the best new play in the English theatre for some time; none the less I hope very much that Edward Bond will go beyond it transforming ideas into individuals and turning from blood to tears.
Oliver. Taplin, "What's Hecuba to Him?" in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3985, August 18, 1978, p. 931.
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The concerns of The Bundle (1978), the play written after The Woman, are in many ways similar to its predecessor, but with one vital difference. Where previously the action taken against injustice was contained in the revolt by certain individuals and therefore was to some extent isolated action, in The Bundle, a group of individuals combine to overthrow another group of oppressors. Change is shown as a practical reality…. In The Bundle the causes of evil are dealt with by the guerrillas led by Wang, the child abandoned by the river. In one of the most deliberately shocking scenes of the play, Wang hurls an abandoned baby into the river to die, for the alternative is to do good in the apparent world. It is a scene which demands of its audience an enormous effort of concentration and judgement in order to see the distinctions and the analysis made then by Wang. He goes on to lead a successful revolution and the final scene of the play pictures the victors resting between building up the river bank to prevent flooding. It is a post-revolutionary scene, not utopian, but charged with a sense of the opportunities now available. Bond does not naively suppose that the act of revolution solves the problems. It does, however, remove the causes of the repressions. What then follows depends upon the consciousness of the new order. (p. 83)
The evolution of Bond's plays from 1962 to the present day is based upon testing reality via theatre, of moving in a precise, measured way towards the ideas which lie at the heart of The Bundle and The Worlds. The plays subsist not upon the comparatively safe refuge of set ideologies, nor upon a romantic assertion of the perfectibility of man, still less upon anything approaching a deterministic view of human nature. Rather, they explore the fundamental problems and dilemmas of the age and the practical means of resolving them with the optimism of a writer who, despite the prevailing view, has never written a pessimistic work in his life. (pp. 83-4)
Philip Roberts, "'Making the Two Worlds One'—The Plays of Edward Bond," in Critical Quarterly (reprinted by permission of Manchester University Press), Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter, 1979, pp. 75-84.
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Imagine, if you will, a mixture of the plays of Brecht and Strindberg, Brecht's social and political purposiveness allied to Strindberg's tormented vision of man's self-destructiveness, and you will get some idea of the double vision that informs Edward Bond's dramatic world. It is a world in which a sombre sense of man's inhumanity to man co-exists with hopefulness and a strong socio-political awareness. Bond has a great playwright's ability to express this double vision in dramatic images, in dialogue and action that have extraordinary force and power. (p. 65)
Bond has pondered deeply the question of the artist's relationship to society. To be an artist, a dedicated "being apart," is not enough; for Bond the artist is a man among men, and he must be a functioning part of the moral structure of society. (p. 67)
When Bond conceived the idea of doing his own version of King Lear, he did so with a very real sense of its disturbing power as a play…. But he also approached the play in a questioning and sceptical spirit directed particularly at traditional responses to it…. [What] an audience gets from a traditional production of the play is the sense of a man ennobled by suffering, who initially brings that suffering upon himself. Lear's progress through the play is a kind of purgatorial pilgrimage in which his arrogance, moral blindness and inhumanity are stripped away, and a fundamental humanity is left. The deaths of Cordelia and Lear are cathartic in the extreme, arousing deep pity and fear in the audience, the more so since they come so quickly upon the almost paradisal awakening into new life that the old king experiences in the brief reunion with his daughter. Goneril and Regan, in a traditional production, are types of ultimate evil and total inhumanity. In the world of the play that evil is finally expelled, but at a terrible cost in human suffering. In the subdued final passages of the play there is a sense of order in the kingdom reasserting itself. (pp. 68-9)
[Bond's preface to his Lear] describes the moralised aggression of our social and political institutions, "as if an animal was locked in a cage—and then fed with the key. It shakes the bars but can never get out." Yet the description of our "diseased culture," our "institutionalised and legitimised tyranny," is given less from a Marxist than a Blakean humanist-anarchist viewpoint. Bond has a healthy disrespect for power-politics, whether of the left or right…. If his art is to have a function, it is to contribute "to a general consciousness of the sort of dangers that society is now in." So, if he sometimes prompts comparison with Brecht, it is not because he is overtly didactic as Brecht can be, but because of a purposiveness in his drama, an impulse towards "a method of change," and because, like Brecht, he is too good a dramatist not to give full value to irony, complexity, and ambiguity in his plays….
Bond's Lear has a three-act structure, which Bond characterises thus: "Act I shows a world dominated by myth. Act II shows the clash between myth and reality, between superstitious men and the autonomous world. Act III shows a resolution of this in the world we prove real by dying in it."… [The] Shakespearean original functions as stimulus and point of departure for Bond's contemporary version. (p. 72)
In Act I of Bond's play, Lear does not abandon his authority as in Shakespeare's play. Bond wishes to get away from the Renaissance concept of a betrayal of kingly responsibility which releases powers of evil and anarchy in the land, and instead to focus on an old man, an authority figure, overtaken by revolutionary violence, who becomes as a child again, and learns, ultimately at the cost of his own life, the true nature of his society (which could be our own) and of the folly of its power structure…. Lear's great enterprise in Bond's play, his lifetime's work, has been the building of a great wall, to keep his enemies out and his allies in. The play begins and ends with the killing of a man working on the wall. It is one of the great central images of oppression and confinement in the play, and it brilliantly evokes both an ancient landscape and a modern one: we think at one and the same time of the Berlin wall and the Cold War; and of the massive earthworks near Bond's home called Devil's Dyke and Fleam Dyke thrown up by the East Anglians after the departure of the Romans to protect themselves from marauders. (p. 73)
With a number of swift, bold strokes, and using various forms of theatrical foreshortening and simplification, Bond gives us, in the remainder of Act I, the revolution that overthrows Lear, the irresponsible cruelty and violence it brings with it, Lear's madness, and the temporary pastoral refuge he secures with only a "fool" (the gravedigger's boy) and a "wild man" (his tortured general, Warrington) for company. The Shakespearean echoes are strong and insistent: Goneril and Regan, renamed Bodice and Fontanelle, exist in a kind of parodic relation to their formidable and venomous prototypes. They are, for Bond, figures of black farce, figures out of Jarry's Ubu Roi, childishly indulging their cruelties and sexual appetites. (pp. 73-4)
We have to remember that Bond's purpose in Act I is to create a world dominated by myth. These caricature figures belong well enough to this mythical world, albeit that world has its contemporary reference, and we can glimpse something of twentieth-century cruelties and obscenities in the distorting mirror of farce and grand guignol. The horrible fun that Bond gets from these grotesque figures also serves some very useful dramatic purposes. Bond knows many in the audience will be familiar with the Lear original. He wants in Act I to confront directly and in caricature form the extremities of cruelty and violence in King Lear, and, as it were, to exorcise some Shakespearean ghosts. In so doing he prepares the ground for his own exploration of violence and oppression in Acts II and III…. For such a writer it is very important to create the right context for the subject. In introducing the theme on a farcical level before returning to it at a deeper and more serious level, Bond prepares the audience psychologically. (pp. 74-5)
Lear, overthrown by his daughters, seeks refuge with the grave-digger's boy, who is a pig-farmer, and his wife, Cordelia (not, as in Shakespeare, one of Lear's daughters). Both are figures of crucial importance in the later action of the play. Suffice here to note that the gravedigger's boy, like Shakespeare's fool, criticises the king, but offers him counsel and friendship: and that echoes of Shakespeare's storm scenes on the heath are never far away…. At the same time the house of the gravedigger's boy is a real, if temporary pastoral refuge for Lear; no thunder, lightning, and tempestuous rain show us disorder in the universe, reflecting disorder in the body politic. Here is no great chain of being in the Elizabethan manner. Bond's world is a world without God or the gods. And it is at the end of Act I, when the brief pastoral dream turns to nightmare, that Bond's strong individual presence asserts itself and the very different direction of his play begins to become clear. The pillaging soldiers hunting for the escaped king arrive on the scene. They capture Lear, slaughter the pigs, kill the boy, and rape his wife. The violence here is not in any way caricatured. It is grimly matter-of-fact. And Bond drives home the cruelty most powerfully by two very striking dramatic effects. One is an auditory effect: the off-stage squealing of the pigs as they are slaughtered, a sound which is to return, quite spine-chillingly, near the end of the play. The second is an extraordinary and most powerfully contrived visual effect on the death of the gravedigger's boy. His wife's washing is on the line, and, as he is shot, he clutches at one of the sheets which folds around him…. This is not simply a shock effect. Although it does, undeniably, shock. It is a strange, fantastic image of a living man turning into a ghost before our eyes, preparing the way for the continuing presence of the boy as a ghost accompanying Lear for much of Acts II and III…. The red stain [on the sheet] is a fine image of the creeping and spreading violence consuming the world of the play: and in the strange paradox it also suggests of a bleeding ghost, it evokes a kind of death-in-life, a feeling of something sinister and unhealthy which we shall increasingly come to associate with the ghost of the gravedigger's boy.
In Act II Bond opens up his own contemporary world of dream and nightmare, of purgatorial suffering, through which Lear must pass to achieve sanity and understanding. In a succession of strange and haunting scenes he creates a dramatic poetry of action, speech, and image no less powerful than some of Shakespeare's scenes. (pp. 75-6)
Lear, put on trial, refuses to recognise either his daughter Bodice or his own reflection in a mirror that is handed to him…. Bond may be recalling the abdication scene in Richard II where Richard calls for a mirror and eventually shatters it; if so the echo is apt, for Lear demonstrates a similar self-pity and self-dramatisation here. But Bond's vivid imagery and terse command of colloquial idiom is very much his own; and the image of man as a caged animal reverberates beyond the immediate context, and is as central to the meaning of Bond's play as the imagery of storm and tempest is to Lear. It relates to the governed as much as the governors, people and rulers alike, imprisoned within a social and political structure that does not answer to their real needs. (pp. 76-7)
Lear's appalled sense of the world's cruelty and destructiveness strangely now impels him to reach out towards his evil daughters…. The gravedigger's boy, as in some strange folk ballad, whistles up the ghostly presences of Bodice and Fontanelle as the children they once were. The scene of mutual comfort and tenderness that results as Lear cradles the heads of his daughters in his lap and strokes their hair is in no way mawkish. It is important dramatically in a number of ways. It shows Lear reaching out beyond his immediate anguish to a vision of a world that might be…. It is important too in humanising the daughters after the grand guignol horror of the earlier scenes. But, above all, it establishes, in the re-enacted terror of Lear's daughters as little children, the responsibility of environment and family for shaping or mishaping its sons and daughters. (pp. 77-8)
After two brief scenes, set in the rival army camps, of revolution and counter-revolution (Cordelia is now leading the "freedom-fighter" forces of counter-revolution), the counter-revolutionaries carry the day; and Bond returns us, for the conclusion of the Act, to the prison and the caged animals within it. A chain of prisoners moves along a country road, with heavy gunfire in the distance. Lear is one of the chain gang, and to it the defeated Fontanelle, in her turn, is manacled. Bond's great gift for vivid theatrical meaphor, for images that act out the meaning of the play, is here again in evidence: one of the central themes of the play—the vicious circle of violence and oppression, in which governors and governed, tyrants and victims ended up chained to each other, is simply and memorably expressed. Then, back in the prison, Bond brings the act to its audacious climax…. In Shakespeare's original we have the mad Lear crying out in the hovel: "Then let them anatomise Regan, see what breeds about her heart. Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?" Bond, as it were, accepts the challenge of that despairing question, and uses the idea literally. Fontanelle is executed, and the prison officer conducts an autopsy in cool scientific fashion. He "anatomises" Fontanelle, and Lear, tormented by his sense of the cruelty of mankind, looks on to "see what breeds about her heart." (pp. 79-80)
Ironically, but aptly enough, it is at this moment, in the crowning act of violence in Act II, that he is blinded. The blinding continues the use of Shakespeare's text for Bond's own purposes. As in Shakespeare, it is a dramatic metaphor for insight…. Lear is blinded immediately after the revelation he experiences at the autopsy suggests how much that he has needed to learn he has now learnt. What he will choose to do with this wisdom will be the theme of Act III. The blinding also continues and extends the image of power imprisoning and hurting those who wield it. For Lear's "crown" in this scene, which "turns him into a king again," is in fact the square, box-like device fitted over his head to extract his eyes. It is a kind of savage, theatrical conceit, in which Bond forces together the idea of power and the idea of a cruel blindness, a self-imprisonment associated with authority. And it also continues the deliberate and very effective use of anachronisms—the mixing of contemporary and historic detail—in the play. (p. 81)
The final act of Bond's play differs in three crucial respects from Shakespeare's. For Bond's Lear, ripeness is not all; and though he is tempted towards an "easeful death" by the gravedigger's boy and his own moments of despair, he finds the courage to resist this mood, to realise that, far from enduring his "going hence" even as his "coming hither," he still has work to do. This Lear's death is a heroic death that comes about as a result of a political act—a small and seemingly ineffectual act, but none the less one of great symbolic importance. Pathos and piety, overpoweringly present in Shakespeare's last act, are associated, in Bond's last act, with the increasingly spectral and parasitical figure of the gravedigger's boy and are seen as debilitating and harmful emotions. Finally, instead of a reconciliation with Cordelia, there is a confrontation between her, as the new head of a people's government, and the old autocratic ruler, in which Lear decisively rejects her. (p. 82)
Bond's Cordelia is, of course, not one of Lear's daughters. But, like Shakespeare's Cordelia, she is an idealist; she puts her ideals (in Bond's play, political ones) above human needs (condemning a would-be recruit to death because "we can't trust a man unless he hates," and prepared to have Lear killed if he will not cease from preaching to the disaffected); and, just as Cordelia in Shakespeare's play is perhaps most like Lear in a certain uncompromising forthrightness, reckless of consequences, so Bond's Cordelia becomes most like the Lear of Act I. She insists, as he once did, that building the wall is an essential part of the power game; she has the same conviction that she is the saviour of her people. And though Bond is careful to give her respectable liberal arguments in Scene 3, as befits her more enlightened government, those arguments, as Lear recognises, perpetuate violence and the suppression of truth…. This confrontation with Cordelia is for Lear the crucial turning point…. [Now] Lear knows that this phase of resignation, of ripe wisdom, is over. He has a journey to go on, and an act to perform. In a brief ending, but one splendidly dramatic in its gathering together of the play's meaning into a final symbolic action, Lear sets to work with bare hands and a shovel to tear down the wall that it has been his life's work to build, the wall that Cordelia wishes to perpetuate. The wall has from the beginning imposed its dark shadow over the action. But Bond reserves its actual physical presence for the last scene. When it looms up, filling the stage, it is a moment of great dramatic effect. And the struggle of the frail old man to demolish it is the inevitable climactic moment towards which everything in the play has been leading. It is a heroic gesture. It is also a tragic gesture, for it costs Lear his life. He is shot by one of the junior officers in charge of operations. But it is not a futile gesture. Bond, in a final stage-direction that reveals his understanding of how dramatic action can sometimes speak louder than words, specifies that, as the workers on the wall move away from the body, at their officer's command, "one of them looks back." In that looking back with its suggestion that the lesson of Lear's death will not be forgotten, lies a frail but real and important hope for the future.
Thus Bond completes a play which, I would argue, does not suffer by comparison with Shakespeare's great original. (pp. 83-4)
Leslie Smith, "Edward Bond's 'Lear'," in Comparative Drama (© copyright 1979, by the Editors of Comparative Drama), Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring, 1979, pp. 65-85.
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Developing logically from the earlier Bond characters who painfully acquire knowledge about society and slowly commit themselves to action are Wang and the Ferryman in The Bundle…. Wang is not a devoted revolutionary in the beginning of the play. He learns gradually, like Lear, the basic lesson that all suffer and that only action relieves suffering. The Ferryman has a more difficult time accepting this new activism because he has always lived with society's repressive morality. Nevertheless, he rejects his old way of thinking to accept a new one…. [His] willingness to toss an oar into the water as a warning to Wang and the other revolutionaries typifies the positive gesture that Bond's heroes eventually make. The radical politics of these two characters, especially Wang, are more extreme than the behavior of many of the earlier characters (Wang sacrifices the life of one child to save the lives of many others), but the roots for such behavior have been in Bond's characters all along. In The Bundle, however, the characters' actions succeed as never before. Still, the revolution, an open-ended process in Bond's earlier plays, is by no means complete in this play. A socialist utopia is not achieved. The landowner still resides in a Provincial capital protected by the Emperor's soldiers, and San-Ko, one of Wang's fellow workers, makes it clear that they have only begun building up the river bank, and much remains to be done.
In The Woman … the main character, Hecuba, withdraws to an island to escape the horror of the world and to shun all further forms of responsibility…. What compels Hecuba to act is the arrival of Heros and his men, who search for the statue of the goddess of fortune and who believe that Hecuba knows where it is. (pp. 515-16)
If the pursuit of the statue itself is symbolic of irrationality, Heros's behavior represents the irrational in a more extreme form. He is completely willing to endanger his own life and the lives of his men to obtain an object….
Hecuba overcomes her need to withdraw when she skillfully takes advantage of Heros's moment of weakness…. Hecuba now uncovers her eye, and for the first time, she is able to appreciate the beauty of her surroundings. Her new ability to see also suggests her new understanding that compassion and concerned action must be asserted over irrationality. (p. 516)
A discussion of Bond's theme of knowledge and action would not be complete without some mention of the shorter plays. There is the same commitment to knowledge and action in them. In Black Mass …, Christ, unable to tolerate any longer the suffering he sees about him, comes down from His cross and poisons the wine of the Prime Minister of South Africa. In Passion …, near the end of the play, Christ comes to be crucified. He realizes how mad people have become when He sees that another has already been crucified in His place. He condemns this society as "a hell worse than anything my father imagined" and leaves in disgust. In Stone …, the central character is tricked and cheated by several people on his journey to the Stone Mason. When he understands that it is the Stone Mason who is ultimately the cause of his oppression (being forced to carry a heavy stone), he kills him.
Finally, in A-A-American …, which consists of the burlesque Grandma Faust and the documentary The Swing, Paul moves from total innocence to a state of awareness. Learning that his society is corrupt, he actively shows contempt at the end of the play. As the stagehands joke about the killing of Fred—a man suspected but only suspected of raping the daughter of one of the town's important citizens—Paul drops a dime on the stage near them to see them struggle for it and to show his disgust. Their scramble for the coin fulfills Paul's earlier prophecy that "One day your people gonna lynch each other in the gutter over a drop dime." The stagehands, while not exactly lynching each other, show that the potential for violence is ever-present, and Fred's death, the night before, proved that everyone is potentially a victim in such a violent society.
And yet understanding of Bond's theme of awareness and action reveals that his work is one of the most consistent rejections of pessimism in contemporary literature. Bond's "rational theatre" denies the view that man is innately aggressive, that the present social order is the best man can do, and that man can do nothing to solve present problems. In place of such pessimism Bond offers the vision that a good society creates good men, that the present social order is its own form of violence, and that man can change his society. The optimism is tempered by realism, for he knows that any change will be slow and difficult. Nevertheless, in an age in which solipsism, nihilism, and defeatism are all too prevalent, Bond's views challenge people both to recognize corruption and to accept responsibility through action. (p. 517)
Daniel R. Jones, "Edward Bond's 'Rational Theatre'," in Theatre Journal (© 1980, University and College Theatre Association of the American Theatre Association), Vol. 32, No. 4, December, 1980, pp. 505-17.
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[In] The Activists Papers (published with, and constituting, the author informs us, an introduction to his play The Worlds) [Bond] entreats: 'We mustn't treat personal dramas which are only a consequence of political dramas as if they were themselves full political dramas.' It is indeed a fundamental axiom of the theories set out by Bond in The Activists Papers that actions which derive from a private source cannot properly be held to demonstrate or represent political truth. For Bond the individual is a valid dramatic focus only when his individuality is transcended by the nature and pattern of the wider generality it represents.
In Bond's own play The Worlds …, individuality is not so much transcended as submerged by the rigidity with which the author relates the dramatic tools at his disposal to an implacable political purpose. Essentially the play portrays the confrontation between the management and workers of a company called TCC in the context of a strike, and highlights their respective reactions to the intrusion into the situation of a group of terrorists…. The structure of the play is extremely neat: the device of introducing the terrorists not only gives Bond a vehicle for the direct expression of his own political views, but at the same time furnishes the means of throwing into relief the nature of the other two 'worlds' in support of those views.
Certainly the author succeeds in suggesting the 'violence' inherent in the tactics of the management, as well as underlining persuasively the impotence of the strikers, whose choice consists in either retracting their claims or being labelled murderers. One cannot escape the feeling, however, that Bond is moving pieces on a chessboard in his desire to show a familiar situation … in a new light. None of the three 'worlds' presented by the play is authentic in human terms…. The manipulation of human responses is evidenced throughout, and, as a result of the caution it indicates, much of the dramatic potential of the conflict which the play portrays is lost. Only in one scene does Bond permit the direct confrontation of management and workers on stage, and this is the highlight of the play, since each side finally has the chance to complement its oft-stated parti pris with an element of passion. For too much of the play, however, it is a question of talk; each side, restricted to its own territory benefits from often transparently contrived opportunities to make political points, points which one suspects might carry far more conviction had Bond been willing to allow himself and his characters rather more freedom.
Bond is certainly the most important exponent of social activist theatre in Britain today, and whilst many of the individual points made in The Activists Papers are direct echoes of theoretical statements made by the author in previous prefaces, articles and interviews, their publication here offers an important opportunity to form an overall picture of the stage of development reached by Bond's views of the society in which he lives, and the craft that he practises. For Bond our society is, above all, 'irrational'. The world, he argues, is changing: modern technology has completely altered the means by which we live. The system which governs our social relationships, however, has failed to reflect this development, but remains rooted in feudal concepts of power and coercion. Society is an authoritarian structure, erected on the twin pillars of deception and violence, and dedicated to the perpetuation of its own power. There is, in short, a conflict between the old criteria which govern society, and the new consciousness of those who live in it. The duty of the theatre, Bond insists, is to lay bare the 'irrationality' of society, by pointing to its violence and revealing its deceptions. To this end he proposes an 'epic theatre' (the term is borrowed from Brecht, whose broad aims Bond closely echoes), the key obligation of which is to portray man in terms of his class function, in line with the author's underlying belief that man's actions are related to, and determined by, his social and political context. (pp. 55-7)
Bond clearly and persuasively illustrates what he means by the 'irrationality' of society with a mixture of polemic, poetry and parable. The accompanying proposals relating to 'epic theatre', however, are dominated by a consideration of the pitfalls the dramatist needs to avoid in creating successful activist theatre, at the expense of any really clear indications of the positive steps he should follow in his quest. In the former context Bond is again perceptive and persuasive; in the latter he relies heavily on laconic assertion and insubstantial rhetoric. It is always more easy to grasp what 'epic theatre' should not be than to determine what it should be…. Like the activist theatre of which he is the most prominent spokesman, Bond has yet to bring his search for a form to a successful conclusion. (p. 57)
Mick Martin, "The Search for a Form: Recently Published Plays," in Critical Quarterly (reprinted by permission of Manchester University Press), Vol. 23, No. 4, Winter, 1981, pp. 49-57.∗
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['The Worlds' seems to be based on Shakespeare's 'Timon of Athens.'] Mr Bond's Timon figure is an industrialist named Trench who is kidnapped by terrorists and who discovers when released that his subordinates have taken advantage of his absence to vote him out of office. Like Timon he invites them to a farewell party in order to insult them, and then disappears from society…. In exile he re-encounters his former captors who now have a new prisoner and, in a bored disinterested way, offers them sanctuary. As he says, unlike his supposed friends, 'those people told the truth: they said they were my enemies.'
Like Shakespeare, Mr Bond runs into trouble finding things for his solitary misanthrope to do and fitting him with a credible opposition, but he does tell a better story than Shakespeare. The play has the customary Bondian virtues of speed, clarity and economy.
All the same Trench's gratified bitterness, as he sees violence conquering on all sides, threatens to take over the play. He manages somehow to welcome the chaos while despising its activators; and he has an important dramatic advantage which the author may not have calculated. He is always alone. He may behave smugly to his colleagues while still in power but they are characterised as creeps who deserve it.
When threatened by the terrorists he stands his ground, and his scorn for his supporters ('One advantage of being chucked out of my organisation is that I don't have to put up with your inane toadying') is completely captivating. One naturally sympathises with a man under the gun; a threatened human life always counts for more than whatever cause is menacing it….
Mr Bond is at his best in attacking the hypocrisy that condemns one kind of violence while ignoring or justifying another, though he fails to acknowledge that that is a characteristic of the Left as much as of the Right. There are two scenes of confusion in which everybody shouts at once; one takes place among the capitalists, one among the guerrillas. Maybe we are meant to equate them.
The terrorists are acting in support—unsolicited as far as we can tell—of a strike. Second time round, the terrorists get the wrong man: a chauffeur, instead of his employer. He lies on the floor, tied hand and foot and bundled in white, for most of the second act. He is obviously meant to be a powerful image; Trench uses him as a cue for speeches about the human animal.
But he turns the play false; if this mistake were made in real life, the different parties would hardly be able to move fast enough to disentangle themselves. But here the jailers go on holding him (keeping him trussed up apparently for the author's visual convenience); the strikers make no concessions; the bosses do, but only because they realise it will improve their public image.
Mr Bond misses the deeper irony which is that they would probably act out of quite genuine humane feeling, which certainly would bump up the profits and leave things essentially unchanged. Every now and then Mr Bond slides in explicit lectures which, since they are brief and well written, the audience take like lambs; but which neither support nor are supported by the action of the play. You believe them or not, according to the ideas you have brought into the theatre with you; and the author seems to have written them in the same spirit.
However, they are not the whole play; and if Mr Bond sometimes seems to walk into complexities he wishes weren't there, such misadventures are a bonus for the rest of us. The play takes its title from the observation—acknowledged by both sides, though with different emphasis—that there are two worlds, everyday civilised discourse and the brute moneyed reality beneath; and there is power in the collision.
Robert Cushman, in The Observer (reprinted by permission of The Observer Limited), June 21, 1981, p. 35.
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Edward Bond's new play [Summer: A European Play] … is set in an unnamed country which seems to be Yugoslavia; a sunny Mediterranean land with a growing tourist industry, occupied by the Germans during the war and subject to a social revolution after it. Three middle-aged survivors of that distant time confront the past and each other….
When Bond is producing his best work, as in this play, his debt to Shakespeare is both obvious and enriching. Apart from his use of poetic imagery, he gives us a sense of action taking place at several levels and, perhaps most important of all, that a tension between irreconcilable opposites is of the very essence of drama. Tensions are manifold: between order and anarchy, justice and mercy, and—in this particular play—between life and death, light and dark: Marthe is dying, and tells us that it is death which gives us our enjoyment of life. The physical emphasis in the play is on such things as light, warmth, simple pleasures: the remembered horrors are all in people's heads, and in their speeches.
Summer is a modern rendering of The Tempest: the age-old quarrel between the exiled dispossessed Prospero and his kinsman is enacted by Xenia and Marthe; the boorish German soldier turned tourist with an appetite for sandwiches and ladies in bathing costumes is Caliban; and Ann and David are Ferdinand and Miranda, for whom youth and love transforms the world….
This is the best play that Bond has written for a long time, and it puts him back in his rightful place, in the very forefront of our living dramatists.
Eva Figes, "Confronting the Past," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1982; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4114, February 5, 1982, p. 133.