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Edward Bond: Saved by Marxist Noir

I've been rather ill and the malady down time has forced me into a considered "retreat" -- in the sense as the Catholic Church promotes "retreats".

And for some reason I've got caught up in considering the plays of Edward Bond (pictured left). Forty years ago, his break through play, Saved (first produced in 1965)had a massive impact upon me and I've been an occasional student of his ever since. I was perhaps very fortunate that in 1969 I caught maybe the only production of a Bond play in Australia, Saved -- directed by Arne Neeme during a drama festival at Monah University.

That was my moment, you see. My Wow!

Bond presents himself as a socialist but one who has addressed social issues with such consideration that it is so hard to find his equal anywhere.I guess this is why I came back to Bond because he offers serious thoughts on big topics in a dramatic way that he has to be compared to people like Bertolt Brecht or I guess, at least in his aggressive presentation of the human condition , to William Shakespeare.

Bond in fact wrote a play about Shakespeare -- Bingo - and it gives you a feel for his approach to his material:
Bingo: Scenes of Money and Death is a 1973 play by English Marxist playwright Edward Bond. It depicts an aging William Shakespeare at his Warwickshireenclosure home in 1615 and 1616, suffering pangs of conscience in part because he signed a contract which protected his landholdings, on the condition that he would not interfere with an enclosure of common lands that would hurt the local peasant farmers. Although the play is fictional, this contract has a factual basis. Bingo is a political drama heavily influenced by Bertolt Brecht and Epic theater.
and rewrote one of Shakespeare's plays as Lear.

Bond also has a habit of writing long introductions to his plays when they are published and these prologues are crafted like manifestos. So if you missed out on the meaning in one play, you'll be re-delivered the point of it in the written intro to its published form.

But I'm not interested in Bond just because he is political or because he is neglected or writes polemical tomes. I'm interested in Bond because he makes such good sense. Of course you have to take my word for it unless you read his plays -- as they have almost fallen from the English language repertoire and never got much of a footing in Australia -- or his writings on his plays (or interviews about them).

While he is an English playwright. he now is in exile and in France and in other theatres across Continental Europe, Bond is god.

And what strikes me so much is that Bond was out of step with the sixties and the subsequent wave of heady radicalism because he was so determined to be concrete and essential. Like Brecht, he is a heir to German Expressionism ( the expressionism we perhaps know best as it panned out in Film Noir over three decades) but with a Marxist twist.

So it is Marxist Noir -- the kind that Rosa Luxembourg nailed with the adage that our human choice is "socialism or barbarism'.

He is indeed prone to doubts, to pessimism and to horror because that is what we are all prone to -- but Bond's saving grace is that he is absolutely certain of the imperative for social change. And in an odd way -- and it is indeed odd for those of us schooled in Brechtian style epic theatre -- he doesn't let his craft get in the way. To discuss Bond presumes you are going to talk about the ideas in his plays. As he once wrote in one of his introductions:
"If a house is on fire and I shout ,"Fire! Fire!" I don't want people to comment on my shouting ability,I want them to join in the fire fighting." --Edward Bond [Plays: Two]
And its that sort of engagement that has bought me back to Bond: a bleakness diluted by the promise of social change.

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