The Play

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The play begins in the living room of the home in which Pam lives with her father and mother. Having just met Len, she has brought him home with her, and they are preparing to engage in sexual intercourse. Harry, getting ready for work, enters the room as they are settling themselves on the couch, but he says nothing and leaves immediately, allowing them to continue, rather jokingly, with the sexual act. After this encounter, Len moves in as a lodger and becomes seriously interested in Pam, but she is attracted to Fred, another, tougher young man.

In the next scene, Pam is taking care of a baby she has had with Fred. She is still living with her parents, and Len continues to board with them; he takes care of Pam—as much as she will let him, since she now despises him. Fred pays no attention to her. Mary and Harry seem to take the situation without comment, which is consistent with the fact that they do not speak to each other. Len acts as a go-between for Pam and the elusive Fred, but he has little success in getting Fred to visit her. He has even less success in pleasing Pam, who wants him to move out of her parents’ home and leave her alone. The baby, offstage much of the time, cries incessantly and is ignored by Pam.

The central scene of the play occurs in the local park, where Pam confronts Fred, begging him to visit her more often. In the ensuing quarrel she walks off, leaving the baby in its carriage for Fred to take care of, or not, as he pleases. Mocked by a gang of friends, Fred threatens to abandon the baby. Slowly at first, and then with increasing enthusiasm, the young men torment the baby. At first, Fred resists their suggestions that he join in, but as the attack on the child goes beyond pinching to punching and to throwing burning matches into the carriage, Fred gets involved. Stones are thrown at the child, and when the gang members, including Fred, flee, there is no doubt that the baby has been killed.

Fred goes to jail for the killing, having refused to name any of the other men. Pam waits faithfully for him, still trying to get Len out of the house; Len, in turn, still tries to help Pam as much as she will allow. She is sure that Fred will come to her on his release from prison. Though he is pressured to leave in order to make room for Fred, Len refuses to do so, and Pam’s parents show no inclination to evict him. On the day Fred is freed, Len accompanies Pam to meet him at a cafe near the prison, but they are not the only ones to greet the former convict. The young men who helped Fred in the murder are also on hand, as is a young girl with whom Fred was involved before the killing. Pam begs him to come with her, but he and his friends jeer at her and leave. She blames Len for failing to persuade Fred.

Things grow worse at home. Harry accuses Mary of having an affair with Len; in response, Mary smashes a hot teapot over her husband’s head. Pam is so hysterical about Fred’s refusal to join her and Len’s refusal to leave that Len is advised to keep to his room. Harry does not seem to be really upset about Len and his wife, and the two men console each other for the difficult, unhappy situation...

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they are in, but neither of them wants to leave. Pam has no success in convincing Fred either to come to her or to take her away from the family home.

The last scene is innocently quiet. The play has come full circle, back to the family living room, where Harry is working on his football pools, Mary is clearing up the table, Pam is reading the Radio Times, and the ever-patient Len is fixing a chair. It is a tour de force of theatrical restraint, since aside from one brief request for a hammer, made by Len to Pam (she ignores him), nothing is said. Harry finishes his lottery entry and seals the envelope. Mary and Pam sit, saying nothing, on the couch. Len fixes the chair, crouching beside it, his head lying sideways on the seat. All seems well.

Dramatic Devices

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Saved is an almost perfect example of the naturalist play, in which human conduct as it is played out in real life, particularly among the least fortunate members of a society, is explored relentlessly and usually without comment, and in which the forces of heredity and environment act upon characters powerless to resist. The naturalistic play is, however, more than simple documentary. It is Bond’s intention to lay blame for the reprehensible conduct of his characters on the place that they, through no fault of their own, inhabit in a capitalist society. He has, on many occasions, been accused of gratuitous brutality and sensationalism, but he belongs to a quite important movement in the theater that began in the work of Émile Zola and Henrik Ibsen, who used drama not simply to entertain but also to attack social inequities.

Bond deliberately wanted to upset his audience; in Saved, therefore, he put as much sordid, dreary reality on the stage as he could, attempting to reproduce, with little artistic shaping, the desultory banality of working-class language, relationships, and conduct. The sets are kept as rudimentary as possible, and what constitutes “set” is tasteless and ugly. There is a deliberate flatness in the speech patterns, which are often regionally accurate but confined to boring incoherence. No attempt is made to make the conversations interesting; clichés pervade the supposed witty badinage of the play’s young men and women, who clearly possess extremely limited imagination. There is no attempt to make the characters look better than they might be in real life; it could be argued that Bond is determined to make them look their worst.

Consistent with this determination to avoid artistic enhancement is Bond’s deemphasis on plot and structure. The play is made up of thirteen short scenes with seemingly arbitrary jumps in time and consequence, presented without explanation, rather awkwardly plodding through the dreary day-to-day life of south London griminess. Only the murder scene has any deliberate theatrical shape. There is a constant sense that things simply happen, as they do in real life. Time means nothing. Pam meets Fred in the park; he flirts for a moment with her. Two scenes later, without any further connection shown between them, Pam is taking care of a baby she claims to be Fred’s child. After the murder, Fred spends what must have been some considerable time in prison, but there is no attempt to convey a sense of time having passed. The narrative is virtually shapeless. One thing is depicted as the same as any other; nothing really means anything, and the killing of the child is commented upon as nothing much more than an inconvenience. Life grinds on.

Historical Context

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In 1948, as a result of several acts of Parliament, Great Britain (the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) became what has become popularly known as a ‘‘Welfare State.’’ The intent was to provide a more equitable distribution of the national wealth and to provide the basic needs of food, shelter, health care, and education for all of the country’s citizens. Basic services, such as transportation, telephone, electrical, gas, and water utilities were nationalized, as were the steel, coal, and petroleum industries. While extreme by United States standards, the Welfare State remained basically a capitalist economy.

The class hierarchy, ranging from agrarian workers and urban working-class through the various levels of the middle-class to the established levels of the aristocracy remained in place, although, theoretically, it became easier to move up the social and, especially, the economic scale.

The level of education was dependent upon success in examinations taken at various stages. Edward Bond attended the Crouch End Modern School after World War II and was thought not good enough to take the eleven-plus examination, which, if passed, would have allowed him to progress to grammar school (the equivalent of high school in the United States). Thus, his formal education ended at age fifteen, the level at which the majority of British students ended their formal education and entered the work force.

National Service, known in the United States as the ‘‘draft,’’ was required of every able-bodied male for a period of two years.

Elsewhere, the United States began bombing North Vietnam as a general policy and the first deployment of U.S. combat troops in Vietnam took place in 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated. Voter registration marchers were attacked by Alabama police and Federalized National Guard troops were sent in to protect them. President Johnson announced programs for a ‘‘Great Society’’ to eliminate poverty in America. ‘‘Early Bird,’’ the world’s first commercial satellite, was put into orbit and began to relay telephone messages and television programs between the United States and Europe.

The Arts Council of Great Britain had been established immediately following World War II, providing government funds to support all the arts throughout Great Britain. Although support was meager at first, it did have an enormous impact on making the arts available to everyone. Among those receiving support was the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in London, formed in 1956 to support playwrights whose work had no chance of finding an initial commercial production. It quickly became the inspiration and the national home for new playwriting in Britain. In 1958 the Royal Court formed the ‘‘Writer’s Group’’ to work with new writers and Edward Bond, still unproduced, was invited to become part of the group.

In 1965, theatre censorship was still operating under the authority of the Theatres Act of 1843, under which the Lord Chamberlain, head of the Queen’s household, was given absolute authority to determine what could and could not be produced on any stage in Great Britain. Plays had to be submitted to his office to receive a license before they could be performed. Stage censorship was an anomaly—a play banned from the stage could be seen by millions on television or heard over the radio. BBC radio and television frequently produced the works of serious playwrights such as Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter and others who also wrote for theatre.

The Rolling Stones, still playing in pubs the year before, had a huge success with Satisfaction. In the United States, the Grateful Dead had its beginning in San Francisco; ‘‘op’’ and ‘‘pop’’ art were fashionable; Congress passed legislation creating the National Endowment of the Arts with an initial grant of $2,500,000.

Literary Style

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SettingSaved has thirteen scenes with an intermission suggested after the seventh. Six of the scenes are set in the living-room of the flat in the working-class area of South London that is shared by Harry, his wife Mary, and their daughter Pam—and, after the first scene, Len—and two in an attic bedroom in the same flat; three are in a nearby park; one scene is in a jail cell; and one takes place in a cafe. All of the scenes call for very simple settings. The park is a bare stage (with a boat on it for Scene Two). The interior scenes are also very simply represented: a narrow triangle of flats upstage, giving a very enclosed feeling, with the necessary furniture in front of that for the flat; tables and chairs without the upstage flats for the cafe, and a simple jail-door flat for the jail-cell scene. The settings become more claustrophobic as the lives of the characters become more constricted: all of the park scenes are in the first act and four of the living-room scenes and one of the bedroom scenes are in the second act.

Plot The plot of Saved takes place over a period of about two years. Bond does not show development of characters over that time but rather shows episodes in the lives of the characters. There is no explanation of what went on during the sometimes considerable time that has elapsed between episodes other than major events: Pam had her baby, Len lost a job, Len got a job, Fred served his time in prison. This lack of detailed accounts of time not shown leads the audience to assume—indeed, to feel —that the lives of the characters have continued with the same drab existence. As it accrues, the audience comes to realize that the background is the subject and the episodic actions are only punctuations.

An interesting plot device is the placing of the murder of the baby in the first act. Although the scene is central to the play, by placing it in the first act Bond is able to focus attention on the situation surrounding the murder, rather than focusing on the build-up to the murder. The murder itself is stunningly shocking because it goes against all that society claims to believe: babies are to be protected. But, given the situation, the murder is inevitable and other similar atrocities in the future are also inevitable because no one seems to be seriously affected by it, not even Pam, the baby’s mother.

Character Development With the exception of Len, there is really no character development at all in Saved and that is deliberate and part of the point of the play. These characters do not grow, they do not learn from their experiences. Moreover, no explanations are given of their lives or behaviors so that the audience comes to understand their plight. That also is deliberate. As Malcolm Hay and Philip Roberts point out in Bond: A Study of His Plays, ‘‘Emotive demands for sympathy from the stage can only muddle the issue. Once you sympathize with somebody, you make excuses for them. If you make excuses for that sort of behavior, then you condone it and then you condone what creates the situation.’’ Bond wants his audience to react to his view of society by taking action and changing the society itself, not by simply feeling compassion for the characters trapped in their hopeless situations. Therefore, the audience is shown effects which, individually and cumulatively, are shocking and the audience must then involve themselves to arrive at the causes.

Language The language in Saved is so authentic that the Hill and Wang edition has twenty-seven footnotes to explain the meaning of words or phrases. Some of the English critics, who do not come from the working-class, had trouble understanding some of the language, but all admitted that it certainly sounded natural enough. However, Bond’s language is not simple transcription; it is carefully chosen and shaped to convey the play’s motivation and themes. Its short, staccato structure, while basically used as aggression or to defend against the aggression of others, or even simply to keep others away, is also highly poetic and frequently comic. As Richard Scharine has pointed out in The Plays of Edward Bond, the characters in Saved mistrust words and for them ‘‘language as a tool functions only to hold others at a distance.’’

Compare and Contrast

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1965: As part of the ‘‘Welfare State,’’ the government owned and operated all public transportation, telephone, gas, electric, and water utilities, coal, petroleum, and steel industries. The government was by far the largest employer in the nation.

Today: All the industries listed above, including the utilities, have been privatized—sold to stockholders— to promote efficiency through greater competition.

1965: The United Kingdom was a leading trading nation but functioned as a separate entity financially and economically.

Today: In 1973, the United Kingdom became part of the European Economic Community (now called the European Union). This created the ‘‘Common Market’’ for economic integration of the member countries of Europe with a gradual increase in political integration.

1965: As part of the youth movement in popular culture, sexual freedom was being promulgated for both men and women.

Today: There is a great deal more sexual freedom in society in general and things are talked about and shown in the popular media that could not have been done in 1965.

1965: AIDS had not yet occurred at all and other sexually transmitted diseases were easily treated. Today: AIDS has brought about a broad recognition that casual sex can lead to death.

1965: The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) provided the only television programming in the United Kingdom and operated two channels.

Today: BBC continues to produce television programming and now operates four television channels, with plans for a fifth. In addition, there are sixteen commercial program companies and, through home satellite television, there are dozens of channels available.

1965: Plays had to receive a license from the Lord Chamberlain before they could be produced for the public. He could demand changes or could ban the play in toto, and there was no appeal from his decision.

Today: There is no censorship of theatre. Plays are subject to the same common law provisions against libel and obscenity as are other areas of the media.


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Sources for Further Study

Bond, Edwin. Edwin Bond Letters. Edited by Ian Stuart. London: Harwood, 1994.

Cohn, Ruby. “Edward Bond.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James, 1999.

Coult, Tony. The Plays of Edward Bond. London: Methuen, 1977.

Hay, Malcolm, and Phillip Roberts. Edward Bond: A Companion to the Plays. London: Eyre Methuen, 1978.

Mangan, Michael. Edward Bond. London: British Council, 1998.

Robert, Philip, ed. Bond on File. London: Methuen, 1985.

Scharine, R. The Plays of Edward Bond. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1976.

Spencer, Jenny S. Dramatic Strategies in the Plays of Edward Bond. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Trussler, Simon. Edward Bond. Harlow, England: Longman, 1976.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Bond, Edward. Saved, Methuen, 1966, pp. 6, 9-10, 11, 19, 69, 75.

Bond, Edward. Lear, Eyre Methuen, 1972, p. 5.

Brien, Alan. The Sunday Telegraph, November 7, 1965.

Browne, Terry W. Playwrights’ Theatre, Pitman Publishing, 1975, pp. 56-57, 62-63, 121.

Gilliatt, Penelope. The Observer, November 7, 1965.

Hay, Malcolm, and Roberts, Philip. Bond; A Study of His Plays, Eyre Methuen, 1980, pp. 15, 48-49, 54, 62.

Kretzmer, Herbert. The Daily Express, November 4, 1965.

LeBlond, Max. ‘‘Edward Bond: Criticism,’’ Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 13: British Dramatists Since World War II, Gale, 1982, pp. 83-91.

Scharine, Richard. The Plays of Edward Bond, Bucknell University Press, 1976, pp. 54, 69.

Thom, Mary V. ‘‘Letters,’’ Plays and Players, February, 1966, p. 8.

Trewin, J. C. The Illustrated London News, November 13, 1965.

Wardle, Irving. The Times, November 4, 1965.

Wardle, Irving. ‘‘The Edward Bond View of Life,’’ the London Times, March 15, 1970.

Young, B. A. The Financial Times, November 4, 1965.

Further Reading Browne, Terry W. Playwrights’ Theatre: The English Stage Company at the Royal Court, Pitman Publishing, Ltd., 1975. Tells the story of the theatre that was primarily responsible for making theatre more socially relevant in post-World War II England. It contains a segment that deals in detail with the first Saved production and the ensuing court case.

Cohn, Ruby. Retreats from Realism in Recent English Drama, Cambridge University Press, 1991. Deals with developments of British Drama since about 1965, including works by Edward Bond. It gives a good overview and covers briefly such critical movements as post-modernism.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volumes 13 & 14: British Dramatists Since World War II, Gale, 1982. This excellent compilation contains entries on every major British dramatist since World War II and also includes articles on the Arts Council of Great Britain and all the major subsidized companies.

Hall, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966. Studies the social and physical pathologies that result from too little physical living space for people.

Hay, Malcolm, and Roberts, Philip. Bond, A Study of His Plays, Eyre Methuen, 1980. The authors were given unrestricted access to Bond’s correspondence, notes, rough drafts, and unpublished plays for their superb study of his work. They have also interviewed directors, designers, and others who worked on productions of his plays.

Hay, Malcolm, editor. Bond on File, Methuen, 1985. This small volume includes excerpted reviews, performance history, and a selection of Bond’s own comments on his work.

Hobson, Harold. Theatre In Britain, 1920-1983 Phaidon Press Limited, 1984. Harold Hobson, for many years the dean of English drama critics, gives an overview of his sixty-three years of attending theatre. This serves as a solid background about what was going on in general, and especially in the commercial theatre, in England during the time Edward Bond and others were developing and writing.

Scharine, Richard. The Plays of Edward Bond, Bucknell University Press; Associated University Press, 1976. This is an excellent study of Bond’s early works, through The Sea, 1973. It includes a section on techniques and themes which can be applied to Bond’s later works as well.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide