For the past two days I have been chained to the desk in my room doing an exam. Yes, a 48-hour exam. I missed doing the exam the first time round in April because I had a spontaneous pneumothorax (a leaky lung if you don’t know what that is, although you’re probably better looking up the proper medical definition!) so here I am doing an exam in August. Although it doesn’t feel too much like an exam because I can do it in the comfort of my own home and I had 2 days to write an essay. So, probably pretty good as exams go.
The subject of my essay was the play ‘Saved’ by Edward Bond (I did have two choices of question but this was the one I picked). It’s quite a grim play and certainly shocking – a baby gets stoned to death in scene six. Although incidentally not the worst thing I read last year for my course – if you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ or ‘Blasted’ by Sarah Kane you’ll know what I’ve been subjected to. However, studying this play in so much depth over the past 48 hours has made me appreciate it as a really affecting piece of theatre.
The murder of the baby is so horrific but nobody mourns for it. It becomes this huge, unspoken, elephant in the room. I think the play captures the hopelessness of not being able to move on from something that cannot be spoken about. Almost all the way through you can just feel the tension of what is unsaid between the characters and how this affects their relationships with one another.
Bond described the play as ‘almost irresponsibly optimistic’ but I found it really hard to find this optimism. I imagine that if I had been to see this performed in the theatre, I would be left still staring at the stage even after the curtain has come down, still waiting for the happy ending. In my essay I wrote specifically about the last scene because, unusually, it’s almost entirely devoid of speech and I think this would just add to the feeling of waiting for something else to happen – something to lift the characters out of their hopeless existence. The scene shows the power of silence and I think it would make an audience feel incredibly uncomfortable. It is unsurprising that the play caused so much controversy when it was first performed in 1965.
However reading the author’s note in the front of my copy of the play made me think differently about the idea of optimism. Bond writes:
The play ends in silent social stalemate, but if audiences think this is pessimistic that is because they have not learnt to clutch at straws. Clutching at straws is the only realistic thing to do.
After all that happens in the play, Len’s modest act of mending the chair shines as tiny light of hope in an otherwise dire situation. The play offers a sharp social commentary that cuts painfully close to life and it still feels relevant to today’s society despite being written nearly 50 years ago.
This article from The Guardian about the most recent performance of ‘Saved’ is really interesting: