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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Saved
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre  Autumn 2011

This is the play that famously caused outrage in 1965 because of a scene showing a group of young men stoning a baby to death in its pram. But I suspect that without that scandal it might have sunk without a trace and certainly wouldn't have achieved its mythic status. 

Seen today, when that scene still has the power to disturb but isn't quite so shocking, Edward Bond's Saved is a too often pedestrian social drama that has something valid to say but says it unimpressively and at excessive (three hour) and repetitive length.

Bond's theme is the emptiness of life for the working and unemployed class, demonstrated in the total lack of humanity in the somewhat peripheral characters who kill the baby, and in the emotional numbness of the more central figures, who dream of little and settle for less. 

The mother of the doomed baby spends the play pining for its father, who lost interest in her sometime around the moment of conception, while a nice chap who had been her previous boyfriend spends the play pining fruitlessly for her. 

Neither can work up much more than the vague wish that things were better, and Bond's depiction of their environment shows that they are not unique. The girl's parents haven't exchanged a word in years, and the guys who kill the baby do it as they might idly throw rocks at tin cans. 

Remove the shock value of the murder, and earlier and later scenes of the girl's home life are actually more disturbing, showing the family sitting around and doing absolutely nothing that suggests any inner mental or emotional life. They idly watch TV, idly eat a meal without pleasure, and are vaguely aware of the offstage crying baby without ever considering going to aid it. 

The men's killing of the baby is just an extension of its mother's total lack of bonding with it, and for every character who tries to establish a connection to another (essentially just the central boy and girl) there are three who feel no such connections and deflect any attempts to connect with them. 

That is a chilling and convincing portrait of what life must be like for some people, though Bond's socialist interpretation of its causes is not especially convincing – it would take very little effort to make the same play believable about Sloanies, middle class suburbanites, princes of the City or the landed gentry.

More tellingly, it is a point that Bond makes very quickly – an early home scene of the girl's family does it – and so the play just drags on, making it again and again with diminishing returns. 

The current production, directed by Sean Holmes, can't conquer the inherent problems with the text and adds its own with a staging concept that seems almost perversely designed to weaken it further. 

What power the play has depends on our believing it and sensing that there are indeed people like this out there in the real world. But Holmes stresses the theatrical artifice by setting it on a mainly bare stage, with any illusion repeatedly broken as actors and stagehands ostentatiously carry props on and off between scenes, virtually saying 'Don't believe any of this. It's just a play.' 

Lia Saville works hard to make sense out of the girl who sometimes seems unbelievably out of touch with reality, and Morgan Watkins is a little more successful in developing some sympathy for the lad trying to hang on to some emotional impulses he doesn't fully understand.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Saved - Lyric Hammersmith 2011

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