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Edward Bond (born 18 July 1934) is an English playwright, theatre director, poet, theorist and screenwriter. He is the author of some fifty plays, among them Saved (1965), the production of which was instrumental in the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK. Bond is broadly considered one among the major living dramatists but he has always been and remains highly controversial because of the violence shown in his plays, the radicalism of his statements about modern theatre and society, and his theories on drama.
Edward Bond was born on 18 July 1934 into a lower-working-class family in Holloway, North London. As a child during World War II he was evacuated to the countryside but was present during the bombings on London in 1940 and 1944. This early exposure to the violence and terror of war probably shaped themes in his work, while his experience of the evacuation gave him an awareness of social alienation which would characterise his writing.
His first contact with theatre was music-hall, where his sister used to be sawn in two in a conjuror's sideshow. At fourteen, with his class he saw a performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth by Donald Wolfit which was revelatory. He later explained that this performance was the first time he had been presented with traumatic experiences comparable to his own in a way he could apprehend and give meaning to.
At fifteen, he left school with only a very basic education, something from which he derived a deep sense of social exclusion that contributed significantly to his political orientation. Bond then educated himself, driven by an impressive eagerness for knowledge. After various jobs in factories and offices, he did his national service in the British Army occupation forces in Vienna between 1953 and 1955. During his time in the army he discovered the naked violence hidden behind normal social behaviour, and decided to start writing.
Back in London, he educated himself in theatre while working, saw everything he could on stage and exercised his skill by writing drama sketches. He was especially impressed by the performances of the Berliner Ensemble in the summer of 1956. In June 1958, after submitting two plays to the Royal Court Theatre (The Fiery Tree and Klaxon in Atreus' Place, which Bond keeps unpublished) he was invited to join its newly formed writers' group.
After three years studying with writers his age but already well-known (like John Arden, Arnold Wesker, and Ann Jellicoe), Bond had his real first play, The Pope's Wedding, staged as a Sunday night "performance without décor" at the Royal Court Theatre in 1962. This is a falsely naturalistic drama (the title refers to "an impossible ceremony") set in contemporary Essex which shows, through a set of tragic circumstances, the death of rural society brought about by modern post-war urban living standards.
Bond's next play, Saved (1965) became one of the best known cause célèbres in 20th century British theatre history. Saved delves into the lives of a selection of South London working class youths suppressed – as Bond would see it – by a brutal economic system and unable to give their lives meaning, who drift eventually into barbarous mutual violence. Among them, one character, Len, persistently (and successfully) tries to maintain links between people violently tearing each other to pieces. The play shows the social causes of violence and opposes them with individual freedom. This would remain the major theme throughout Bond's work.
The play was directed by William Gaskill, then artistic director of the Royal Court. The Theatres Act 1843 was still in force and 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 pram. 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. He was firmly backed by Gaskill and the Royal Court although threatened with serious trouble. Formation of a theatre club normally allowed plays that had been banned for their 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 plotting a coup and the whole dramatis personae 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. In 1969, when the Royal Court was finally able to perform Bond's work legally, it put on and toured the three plays in Europe, winning the Belgrade International Theatre Festival prize. The experience of prosecution and mutual support sealed a link between Bond and the Royal Court where all his plays (except external commissions) would be premiered until 1976, most directed by Gaskill.
While Bond's work remained banned for performance in Britain, Saved became the greatest international success of its time with more than thirty different productions around the world between 1966 and 1969, often by notorious directors such as Peter Stein in Germany or Claude Régy in France. At that time, the play was controversial everywhere but is now considered as a 20th-century classic.
After a few commissioned works (the British Empire satire Narrow Road to the Deep North (1968) for the Coventry People and City Festival, two agit-prop plays for festival performances, Black Mass (1970) to commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre and Passion (1971) for the CND Easter Festival), Bond composed his new major work, Lear, based on Shakespeare's King Lear. The play follows the decay of an aging tyrannical king. Betrayed by his two cynical daughters; hounded as a political risk following military defeat; pursued by the ghost of a man whose life he has destroyed and whose death he has caused; imprisoned and tortured until enucleated; after a life of violence he finally finds wisdom and peace in a radical opposition to power. The end of the play shows him as a forced labourer in a camp setting an example for future rebellion by sabotaging the wall he once built, which subsequent regimes keep perpetuating.
In 1974 Bond translated Spring Awakening (1891) by the German playwright Frank Wedekind, about the suppression of adolescent sexuality. The play had always 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.
The subdued Edwardian-set comedy The Sea (1973) shows a seaside community on England's East Coast a few years before World War I, dominated by a dictatorial lady and overwhelmed by the drowning of one of its young citizens. Nurtured by his experience as a child evacuee to the seaside, the play is (rightly) subtitled "a comedy" and was intended as optimistic after the gloomy mood of his previous plays. This is encapsulated by the successful escape of a young and promising couple from this narrow and oppressive society. This play would be the last plays of Bond's directed by Gaskill.
Bond then produced two pieces exploring the place of the artist in society. Bingo (1974) portrayed the retired Shakespeare as an exploitative landlord, an impotent yet compassionate witness of social violence, who eventually commits suicide, repeatedly asking himself "Was anything done?". The Fool (1975) reinterprets the life of the rural 19th century poet John Clare. It involves Clare in the Littleport Riots of 1816, and then makes his own poetry the depository of the spirit of this rural rebellion against the growth of modern industrial capitalism. The failure of this historical class war eventually drives him to a madhouse. In 1976 Bingo won the Obie award as Best Off-Broadway play and The Fool was voted best play of the year by Plays and Players.
Bond remained a successful playwright in England all through the 1970s, expanding his range of writing and his collaborations. His plays were requested by institutional and community theatres, for premieres and revivals, and he was commissioned to write plays both by renowned institutions and fringe activist companies. For example, in 1976 he wrote, on one hand Stone and A-A-America (pronounced as a sneeze), two agit-prop-style plays, respectively for Gay Sweatshop and the Almost Free Theatre and, on the other, an adaptation of Webster's The White Devil for Michael Lindsay-Hogg to re-open the Old Vic and a libretto for the German composer Hans Werner Henze to open at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden: We Come to the River. (In 1982 the pair collaborated again, less successfully on another opera, The English Cat).
However, Bond's working relationship with the Royal Court progressively slackened, and by the mid-1970s he had found a new partner in the Royal Shakespeare Company. Beginning with Bingo in 1976, the RSC revived and toured his plays regularly until the early 1990s, and Bond, though often disagreeing with the aesthetic choices of its productions  or protesting at not being consulted sufficiently, recognized the genuine support the company gave to his work. In 1977 the RSC commissioned a new play for the opening of their new London theatre, the Warehouse, which would be The Bundle. Set in an imaginary medieval Japan and based on an anecdote from the classical Japanese poet Bashō, the play shows an eventually successful revolution whose leader nevertheless constantly faces the human cost of political change and experiences as futile an ideology of compassion, being (in Bond's view) politically counterproductive and supportive of reactionary violence.
Bond assigned the same political concern to his next play, The Woman, set in a fantasy Trojan War and based on Euripides' Trojan Women. Comparable to Lear, it shows the fight of the decayed Trojan queen, Hecuba, against the Athenian empire, succeeding only when she abandons the aristocracy and the interests of the state to physically meet the proletariat and join the people's cause.
In 1977, Bond accepted an Honorary Doctorate by Yale University (although, thirty years previously, he had not been allowed to sit for his eleven-plus examination) and he began to take up students workshops in Newcastle, Durham and Birmingham, for which he wrote several plays. The most accomplished among them was The Worlds, written for the Newcastle University Theatre Society, based on the recent events in the UK, both the Northern Ireland conflict and the social crisis of the winter of Discontent.
His early 1980s plays were directly influenced by the coming to power of the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher and the profound social changes they were bringing about. Restoration, as a half-musical parody of Restoration comedies, deals with working class support for the Tories by showing a servant accepting his conviction and eventual execution for a murder committed by his cynical and silly master. Summer deals with the moral ambiguities of capitalism through the conflict of two women in socialist Yugoslavia. One is the daughter of former landlords, whose compassionate nature doesn’t prevent them being exploiters and collaborationists during the German occupation. The other, the daughter of servants, rejects the values of the former, who she once saved from a firing squad. Derek, written for a youth festival, alludes directly to the Falklands war and shows an idiotic aristocrat stealing the brain of a gifted worker and sending him to die in a war in a country that "sounds like the name of a disease".
During the late 1970s, Bond felt he needed practical contact with the stage to experiment with his ideas on drama and improve his writing. He therefore began directing his own plays and progressively he made this a condition of their first production. After staging Lear in German at the Burgtheater, in Vienna in 1973, Bond directed his last four plays in London between 1978 and 1982: The Worlds and Restoration at the Royal Court and The Woman and Summer at the National Theatre. These latter two introduced the South African actress Yvonne Bryceland, whom Bond admired, considering her the ideal female interpreter.
The Woman was the first contemporary play performed in the recently opened Olivier auditorium and, though poorly reviewed, the production was acclaimed as an aesthetic success, especially for its innovative use of the huge open stage. However, Bond's working relationships as a director with both the National Theatre and the Royal Court were highly conflicted. The theatres and their actors accused him of being authoritarian and abstract in his direction and unrealistic in his production requirements, and Bond complained undiplomatically about their lack of artistic engagement and had crude rows both with some reluctant actors and theatre managers. He felt that British theatre had no understanding of his intention to revitalise modern drama and could no longer fulfil his artistic demands.
With his notoriously uncompromising attitude, Bond gained the reputation of a "difficult author", which contributed to keeping him away from the major English stages. During the mid-1980s, Peter Hall at the National Theatre repeatedly refused to allow him to direct his new play Human Cannon, written for Yvonne Bryceland and the wide stage of the Olivier. In 1985, he attempted to direct his War Plays at the RSC, accepting very bad working conditions, but left the rehearsals before the premiere after disastrous sessions, and then violently criticized the production and the theatre. He then decided not to allow his plays to be premiered in London by institutional theatres without proper working conditions. He only agreed to return to the RSC in 1996 when he directed In the Company of Men, but considered this production a failure. He nevertheless regularly accepted revivals and sometimes got involved in these productions, although remaining generally unsatisfied, and he directed workshops for RSC actors with Cicely Berry. Except for two plays written for the BBC in the early 1990s (Olly's Prison and Tuesday), Bond continued writing plays in the knowledge that they would not be staged in Britain except by amateur companies.
Nevertheless, in the mid-1980s, Bond's work had a new beginning with the trilogy of The War Plays. Motivated by the threats of the last years of the Cold War and the political activism it provoked in Britain and Europe, Bond had planned to write about nuclear war since the early 1980s. He found a means to do so after testing a storyline with Sicilian students in Palermo. To point to the barbarity of a society which planned to kill the enemy's children to protect their own (that being how he saw the logic of nuclear deterrence), he suggested an improvisation in which a soldier was ordered to kill a child of his community to curb mass starvation. According to Bond, each student who improvised as the soldier refused to kill a foreign child and paradoxically returned home to kill their own sibling instead. He saw in this a deeply rooted force in the individual preserving an innate sense of justice that he theorized as 'Radical Innocence'. Subsequently he built on this concept a comprehensive theory of drama in its anthropological and social role that he intended to go beyond Brecht's theories on political drama. This discovery also gave him the key to write on nuclear war, not to just to condemn the atrocity of war in a general way but, from a political perspective, questioning public acceptance of it and collaboration with it by ordinary citizens.
Between 1984 and 1985 he wrote three plays to meet various requests, which he united as The War Plays. The first, Red Black and Ignorant (written for a Festival dedicated to George Orwell), is a short agit-prop play in which a child, aborted and burnt to death in the nuclear global bombings, comes from the future to accuse the society of the audience of his murder. The second, The Tin Can People (written for a young activists' company), denounces capitalist society's ideology of death. It shows a community of survivors living on an infinite supply of canned food running berserk when they feel threatened by a stranger and destroying all they have as in a reduced nuclear war. The third, Great Peace (written for the RSC) re-enacts the Palermo improvisation in a city barely surviving in the aftermath of nuclear bombardment. It focuses on a soldier who kills his baby sister and his mother who tries to kill her neighbour's child to save her own. The play then follows her twenty years later, in the sterile global wilderness that nuclear war has made of the world, where she rebuilds her humanity bit by bit by meeting other survivors.
These desperate efforts to stay human or be human anew in an inhuman situation would be the purpose of most of the characters in Bond's subsequent plays, the scope of which will be to explore the limits and possibilities of humanity. His next play, Jackets, again uses the Palermo improvisation and sets up a confrontation between two young men manipulated by military conspiracies, first in medieval Japan, then in contemporary urban riots. In the Company of Men shows a desperate fight by the adoptive son of an armaments factory manager to be who he is in a cynical, intrigue-ridden neo-liberal business world that Bond considers the mirror of our post-modern times. In Olly's Prison, a man who has killed his daughter and forgotten his crime tries to find meaning in his life. In Tuesday, a young deserter tries to tell the truth about the war but is destroyed by society. More innovative in structure, Coffee exposes the cultural roots of violence. It contrasts an initial, imaginary section resembling a gloomy fairy tale, in which a mother kills her child because she can no longer feed her, with a second, realistic part reproducing the historical Babi Yar massacre, where the same characters are among the victims. As in the Palermo improvisation, a soldier realises he cannot shoot the victims any more, and eventually decides instead to shoot his officer and escape with the girl.
From 1997 to 2008, Bond's plays explored in depth a gloomy vision of a future society (in 2077) where the potential menaces of social breakdown and bio-political control have become real and structural. The first in this cycle, The Crime of the 21st Century, shows a few outcasts who have fled the over-controlled cities to hide in a no-man's-land where they try in vain to rebuild their humanity by creating a semblance of community. Have I None, Chair and The Under Room show the monotonous life of the cities, where social relationships and memory have been abolished, consumption and possession standardized, and where people are harassed by the resistance of their imagination and panicked by strangers. Born and Innocence follow the actions of militarized policemen, the 'Wapos', who perpetrate atrocities on reluctant civilians during mass deportations, but some of whom try to find a human dimension to their lives and desperately attempt to escape the alienated and criminal conditions they are trapped in.
Though isolated from the institutional British theatres, Bond found two new partners in the mid-90s who would keep alive his impulse for writing. One was the Birmingham-based theatre-in-education company Big Brum, of which he remains an associate artist. From 1995 to 2009 he wrote seven very different plays dedicated to young audiences for this company: At the Inland Sea (1995), in which a youth confronts the legacy of the holocaust; Eleven Vests (1997), on scholastic and military authoritarianism; Have I None (2000), The Balancing Act (2003), The Under Room (2005) Tune (2007) and A Window (2009). Big Brum appears to be the only professional company in England for more than two decades that Bond is openly writing for and allowing to premiere his plays. This collaboration has brought Bond's theories on drama to broader attention in England, where they are now relayed by the National Association for Teaching of Drama. In 1999, he wrote The Children to be played by pupils at Manor Community College in Cambridge. This other contribution to drama intended for young audiences has been performed ever since in many schools and theatres in England and abroad and counts as one of Bond's international successes.
Bond's other partnership of recent years has been with French director Alain Françon who premiered In the Company of Men in 1992 and produced an acclaimed version of The War Plays at the Festival d'Avignon in 1994, re-introducing Bond's work to France where his plays and theory have since become highly influential. Françon continued to promote Bond's work when he was head of the Théâtre national de la Colline in Paris from 1997 to 2010 and, with strong support and involvement from Bond, staged Coffee, The Crime of the 21st Century, Have I None, Born and Chair. To Françon and his actors Bond dedicated People and Innocence, which, with Have I None, Coffee and The Crime of the 21st Century, he calls The Colline Pentad and considers his major project of the past decade.
During the early years of the 21st century, there has been renewed worldwide interest in Bond's work and ideas on drama. In France, he has held several conferences with participants drawn from a wide audience and has directed many workshops in Paris and elsewhere. He has been invited to take part in conferences and workshops all over Europe and America. In the United States, Robert Woodruff and the American Repertory Theatre produced Olly's Prison in 2005; Woodruff also directed Saved (2001) and Chair (2008) at Theatre for a New Audience in New York. In Germany, interest in his plays has remained high since the seventies. In Britain his plays are now regularly revived in community theatre and in 2008, he had his first West End production in a career of almost fifty years with Jonathan Kent's revival of The Sea at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, with David Haig and Eileen Atkins. Among recent productions are revivals of Lear at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield featuring Ian McDiarmid and Restoration with added songs, toured in 2006 by the Oxford Stage Company. During the autumn of 2010 The Cock Tavern Theatre in London produced six of his plays simultaneously (one chosen from each decade), including a new one, provisionally entitled There Will Be More, commissioned for this occasion and performed although unfinished. Notably, Bond himself directed a revival of The Fool and took over the direction of There Will Be More.
The Lyric Hammersmith presented the first London production of Bond's Saved for 27 years in autumn 2011 in a production by the venue's Artistic Director Sean Holmes. 2012 saw two new plays performed by Big Brum Theatre in Education Company; The Broken Bowl and The Edge. Both of these plays were filmed and made available online.
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 and develop a comprehensive theory on the use and means of drama. Nine volumes of his Collected Plays, including the prefaces, are available from the UK publisher Methuen.
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.
In the late 1960s/early 1970s Bond also made some contributions to the cinema. He wrote an adaptation of Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark (1968, dir. Tony Richardson) and the aboriginal drama Walkabout (1971, dir. Nicolas Roeg); as well as contributing dialogue to Blowup (1966, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni) and Nicholas and Alexandra (1971, dir. Franklin J. Schaffner). Except for Antonioni's Blowup, his contribution to which is contested, Bond himself considered these works strictly as potboilers and often became frustrated when further involved in cinema projects.
Plays (dates of writing, followed by director, place and date of world première, if any)
Unavailable early plays
Libretti for Operas by Hans Werner Henze
Libretti for Ballets
Adaptations from other authors
"uniformed edition", 9 volumes by Methuen, London
other plays, by Methuen, London
Letters, selected and edited by Ian Stuart:
Selections from Edward Bond's Notebooks, edited by Ian Stuart, London, Methuen,
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