The Power of Visual and Aural Images
When Saved by Edward Bond opened on November 3, 1965, at the Royal Court Theatre in London, the audience, usually polite in the theatre, shouted abuse at the stage and had physical fights in the lobbies during the intermission and after the play. Among other things, those reactions testify to the power of theatre to make ideas concrete and emotionally gripping.
It is important to remember that reading a play can give only hints at what the power of the play in performance is like. In the theatre the images that are created by the author and brought to physical reality by the director, actors, and designers are experienced by the audience directly and immediately without any thought about how they are created or even what they mean. Bond very carefully creates images that cause very powerful responses and, like any powerful experience, linger in the memory.
The image in Saved that created the most immediate outrage was, of course, the murder of the baby in its pram. As reported by Hay and Roberts in Bond: A Study of His Plays, in the first three drafts of the play Bond had the hoodlums taking the baby out of its pram and tossing it about before murdering it while the baby screamed. As finally performed, the baby is drugged and silent and we never see it. The audience does see the group of thugs torturing the baby or, rather, reporting on the torture in a rising frenzy of excitement. Our imaginations provide the details. Moreover, the baby’s father, Fred, is lounging downstage at the edge of the ‘‘lake.’’ The picture that emerges in the theatre is an almost ritualistic killing punctuated finally by the sounds of the stones smashing into the ‘‘baby’’ in the pram. The fact that we know that a real baby is not in the pram only adds to the feeling of ritual. The audience feels sickened and outraged because they are witnessing not just a random act of violence but an image which speaks of an ongoing savagery toward helpless infants by boys who are little more than children themselves, children of the society of which the audience themselves are a part.
Bond emphasizes the abstract nature of the criminals by calling for them to make ‘‘a curious buzzing’’ like a swarm of insects as they exit. The ritualistic aspect of the scene is further enhanced when Pam returns and coos baby-talk in a ‘‘singsong voice, loudly but to herself’’ in a ritual of motherly care which she never truly displays. It is important to remember that this scene is performed on a bare stage with the location suggested only by the dialogue and the fact that Fred is ‘‘fishing’’ at the opening of the scene. The austerity of the setting further enforces the ritualistic feeling, a ritual in which, as in all ritual, the audience are both observers and, by their very presence, participants. The whole thing is so horrible, so against what we purport to hold most sacred the protection of our children that the reaction is immediate and uncensored and uncontemplated horror.
While the ritualistic murder of the baby caused the most outrage, Scene Nine, in which Len mends Mary’s stocking while she is wearing it, placed second. The highly Oedipal inferences of Len having foreplay to sex with his mother-figure was certainly clear. The sight of the middle-aged Mary with her dress pulled up and her leg on a stool while Len kneeled directly in front of her made the audiences ‘‘uncomfortable’’ and caused complaints. When Len turns the lights off and walks to the couch with a handkerchief in his hand, a scene of extreme loneliness, the implication was clear. Again, the reaction was not an intellectualized distaste, but an immediate reaction against a scene which breaks one of society’s deepest taboos.
Scene Eleven begins with the comedic image of Mary moving the teapot so that Harry cannot reach it, then emptying the tea on the floor all the while childishly claiming that it is hers, not theirs. The comic tone quickly changes, though, when Mary and...
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