Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 616

The critical reaction to Saved was, for the most part, a slaughter. Irving Wardle of The Times (London) said that ‘‘The most charitable interpretation of the play would be as a counterblast to theatrical fashion, stripping off the glamour to show that cruelty is disgusting and that domestic naturalism is boring. But the writing itself, with its self-admiring jokes and gloating approach to moments of brutality and erotic humiliation does not support this view . . . it amounts to a systematic degradation of the human animal.’’ Herbert Kretzmer of the Daily Express said, ‘‘It is peopled with characters who, almost without exception, are foul-mouthed, dirty-minded, illiterate, and barely to be judged on any recognizable human level at all.’’ J. C. Trewin of The Illustrated London News said, ‘‘It may not be the feeblest thing I have seen on any stage, but it is certainly the nastiest, and contains perhaps the most horrid scene in the contemporary theatre. (Even as I write that hedging perhaps’ I delete it: nobody can hedge about Saved.)’’ B. A. Young, critic for The Financial Times, despised the play and said, ‘‘if such things are really going on in South London they are properly the concern of the police and the magistrates rather than the audience of theatres, even the Royal Court.’’ Even those reviews that were positive were not geared to bring in the audiences. Penelope Gilliatt of The Observer gave a thoughtful and positive review; but it started with ‘‘I spent a lot of the first act shaking with claustrophobia and thinking I was going to be sick. The scene where a baby in a pram is pelted to death by a gang is nauseating. The swagger of the sex jokes is almost worse.’’ Alan Brien of The Sunday Telegraph was deeply moved and wrote, ‘‘It appears that the British audiences and critics can stomach unlimited helpings of torture, sadism, perversion, murder and bestiality when perpetrated by foreigners upon foreigners in the past. . . . But when Edward Bond in Saved at the Royal Court shows us London youths, here and now, beating and defiling a bastard baby . . . then a cry goes up to ban and boycott such criminal libels on our national character. . . . Saved makes an unsympathetic, disturbing, wearing, sometimes boring evening in the theatre. But I believe it fulfills one of the basic functions of the drama . . . that of making us remember the monster behind the mask on every one of us.’’

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Although the box office suffered (fifty percent of the seats were sold and 36.7 percent of the possible box office takings were realized during the entire run), the Royal Court kept the play running. And, many of the most influential of the theatre profession rallied to the cause, including Laurence Olivier. Mary McCarthy, the American author, praised the play for its ‘‘remarkable delicacy.’’

Saved had better receptions abroad. Bond was a favorite in Germany and by March, 1968, Saved had had more separate productions in Germany than it had had performances in England. It received its American premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre in December, 1968, and shortly after had its Canadian premiere at McGill University in Montreal. A retrospective season of Bond plays, including Saved, opened at the Royal Court on February 7, 1969. The critical reactions were very different for this production. Irving Wardle said, ‘‘it is now time for the guilty reviewers to queue up and excuse their past arrogance and obtuseness as best they may. As one of the guiltiest, I am glad to acknowledge that my feeling toward the plays has changed, and that if I had originally responded to them as I do now, I should not have applied words like ‘half-baked’ and ‘untalented’ to Saved and Early Morning.’’

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Essays and Criticism