Edward Bond

Edward Bond

Edward Bond (born 18 July 1934) is an English playwright, theatre director, poet, theorist and screenwriter. He is the author of the play "Saved" (1965), the production of which was instrumental in the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK. His controversial work has met with extremes of reaction, from vilification to dismissal to claims that he is the world's greatest living dramatist.

Early life

Edward Bond was born on 18 July 1934 into a working class family in Holloway, North London. As a child during World War II he was evacuated to the countryside where his exposure to the violence and terror of war shaped themes in his work. At fifteen he left school and worked in factories and offices, followed by two years in the British Army.

First plays

In June 1958 Edward Bond was invited to join the first writers' group at the Royal Court Theatre in London after submitting two poetic plays, "The Fiery Tree" and "Klaxon in Atreus' Place". Neither has been professionally produced, nor published.

Bond's first produced play, "The Pope’s Wedding", was given as a Sunday night "performance without décor" at the Court in 1962 [http://www.filmreference.com/film/89/Edward-Bond.html Edward Bond Biography (1934-)] accessed 23 May 2007] . This is a naturalistic drama set in then contemporary Essex. Bond's next play, "Saved" (1965) put him on the map theatrically as well as becoming one of the best known cause célèbres in 20th century theatre history. "Saved" delves into the lives of a selection of working class South London youths, who, suppressed by a brutal economic system, have lost sight of their humanity and become immersed in promiscuity, co-dependence and murderous violence [http://www.amrep.org/articles/3_3a/morality.html Kirsten Bowen "Edward Bond and the Morality of Violence" (2004)] accessed 23 May 2007] .

The outdated Theatres Act 1843 still required scripts to be submitted for approval by the Lord Chamberlain's Office. "Saved" included a scene featuring the stoning to death of a baby in its carriage. The Lord Chamberlain sought to censor it, but Bond refused to alter a word, claiming that removing this pivotal scene would alter the meaning of the play. Formation of a theatre club normally allowed plays that had been banned due to language or subject matter to be performed under 'club' conditions - such as that at the Comedy Theatre, however the "English Stage Society" were prosecuted. An active campaign sought to overturn the prosecution, with a passionate defence presented by Laurence Olivier, then Artistic Director of the National Theatre. The court found the "English Stage Society" guilty and they were given a conditional discharge.

Bond, and the Royal Court continued to defy the censor, and in 1967 produced a new play, the surreal "Early Morning". This portrays a lesbian relationship between Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale, the royal Princes as Siamese twins, Disraeli and Prince Albert as plotting a coup and the whole dramatis personae as being damned to a cannibalistic Heaven after falling off Beachy Head. The Royal Court produced the play despite the imposition of a total ban and within a year the law was finally repealed.

Bond followed this with the British Empire satire "Narrow Road to the Deep North" (1968), two agit-prop plays for festival performances, "Black Mass" (1970) to commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre and "Passion" (1971) which condemns warfare, the soldiers who fight it, the leaders who instigate it and the general public for allowing it to happen. Above all else, in 1971 he composed an epic rewrite of Shakespeare's King Lear, simply entitled "Lear".

In 1974 he translated "Spring Awakening," the great, radical play about the suppression of adolescent sexuality written in 1891 by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. The play had been censored or presented with major cuts since its writing, and Bond's was the first translation to restore Wedekind's original text, including its most controversial scenes. While remaining true to Wedekind's unique cadences, the Bond translation also elegantly brings the language easily to contemporary ears.

Contribution to the cinema

Bond also made some important contributions to the cinema. He wrote an adaptation of Nabokov's "Laughter in the Dark" (1968, dir. Tony Richardson) and the aborigine drama "Walkabout" (1971, dir. Nicolas Roeg); as well as contributing dialogue to "Blow-Up" (1966, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni) and "Nicholas and Alexandra" (1971, dir. Franklin J. Schaffner).

1970s and early 1980s

The subdued Edwardian-set comedy "The Sea" (1973) brought to an end what Bond then realised was a sequence of plays, beginning with "The Pope's Wedding", in which he had asked pertinent questions about our society, its history, its class antagonisms and violence. He then produced two pieces exploring the place of the artist in society: "Bingo" (1974) which shows the retired Shakespeare as both exploitative landlord and suicide; and "The Fool" (1975) showing the 19th century poet John Clare driven insane by his patronising and violent class enemies. In 1976 "Bingo" won the Obie award as Best Off-Broadway play.

Bond followed his sequence of "question plays" with what he called two "answer plays" — "The Woman" (1978), a massive meditation on the myth of the Trojan War; and "The Bundle" (1978), a new version of "Narrow Road". By this time, Bond was also directing. He himself staged the premier of "The Woman" in the National Theatre's huge Olivier auditorium, opening up the stage like no director before him and creating an impressive, strikingly intelligent spectacle.

Also from this period are: the short play "Stone" (1976), written for the gay rights theatre company Gay Sweatshop; and "A-A-America" (1976), a double-bill concerning racist violence in the United States.

In 1976 he collaborated with the German composer Hans Werner Henze on the Opera "We Come to the River", first produced at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. In 1982 the pair collaborated on another opera, "The English Cat".

His next plays were a return to contemporary subjects: "The Worlds" (1979) about industrial unrest and terrorism, premièring at the Newcastle Playhouse and Half Moon Theatre, London; "Summer" (1981), an Ibsen-like memory play; and "Derek" (1982), on class exploitation. "Restoration" (1981) is another study of Ruling Class culpability, this time set in the late 17th century. Restoration was written for the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of their season of restoration plays.

Self-imposed exile from British theatre

Up until this point, Bond's plays were produced by the major institutions of the British theatre: the National, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court. These relationships came to a dramatic end in the mid-1980s, with the National's refusal to let him direct the premiere of "Human Cannon" (1984), a Spanish Civil War epic; his dissatisfaction over the Royal Court's revivals of "Saved" and "The Pope's Wedding" in 1984; and the disastrous premier of the trilogy "The War Plays", dealing with nuclear apocalypse, by the RSC in 1985. This meant for example that a major work, "Jackets" (1989), is still virtually unknown in the UK.

From the mid-seventies, Bond's audience in mainland Europe has grown and it was to here that he turned. He has a working relationship with the Théâtre National de la Colline in Paris; they produced a major version of "The War Plays" in 1995 as well as productions (some premières) of "In the Company of Men" (1992), an exploration of the venality of big business; "Coffee" (1996), set partly in the Imagination and partly at the Nazi execution site Babi Yar; and "The Crime of the 21st Century" (2000), a bleak parable set in a "The Matrix"-like future.

Bond's most recent contributions to British theatre have been for the Birmingham-based theatre-in-education company Big Brum. These have included "At the Inland Sea" (1995), in which a youth confronts the legacy of the holocaust; "Eleven Vests" (1997), on scholastic and military authoritarianism; and "Have I None" (2000), another futuristic parable. Also in 2000, "The Children" was performed and written for pupils at Manor Community College in Cambridge.

In the past two decades, he has written the television plays "Olly's Prison" (BBC, 1993), which has also been produced on stage by Berliner Ensemble and American Repertory Theatre, and "Tuesday" (BBC Schools, 1993); as well as the radio plays "Chair" (BBC Radio 4, 2000) and "Existence" (2002). The BBC have broadcast productions of "The Sea" and "Bingo".


Since the early 1970s, Bond has been conspicuous as the first dramatist since George Bernard Shaw to produce long, serious prose prefaces to his plays.

These contain the author's meditations on capitalism, violence, technology, post-modernism and imagination. Eight volumes of his "Collected Plays", including the prefaces, are available from the UK publisher Methuen Drama.

In 1999 he published "The Hidden Plot", a collection of writings on theatre and the meaning of drama. He has published two volumes from his notebooks and four volumes of letters. His "Collected Poems" was published in 1987.

Current reputation

Bond remains a major figure in contemporary drama.Fact|date=September 2007 He is respected and relatively popular in mainland Europe but continues to have little to do with producing venues in his homeland. Exceptions have been the recent major revival of "Lear" at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield featuring Ian McDiarmid and Jonathan Kent's 2008 revival of "The Sea" at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with David Haig and Eileen Atkins.

"Restoration" revived, with added songs, and toured in 2006 by the Oxford Stage Company

Bond is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.

Notes and citations

External links

* [http://www.methuen.co.uk/authorpages/edwardbond.html Methuen Author's Site]
* [http://www.amrep.org/articles/3_3a/morality.html Edward Bond and the Morality of Violence]
* [http://www.amrep.org/articles/3_3a/bond.html Bond on Bond]
* [http://www.colline.fr/revue/bond/index.php Théâtre National de la Colline Bond Archive (French)]
* [http://www.iainfisher.com/dis An Edward Bond discussion group]

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