Thoughts on Saved



A play by Edward Bond

(NOTE: The following mini-essay contains spoilers for the aforementioned play.)

First thing’s first, I am not easily shocked. Second thing, Edward Bond’s Saved shocked me.

I didn’t have the (dis)pleasure of seeing it on the stage, and it is doubtful I ever will. But merely reading the words on the page gave me a glimpse of something deeply disturbing. Saved is a play that is rarely staged due to its infamous scene: A group of hooligans are messing around at a park. Pam, a young single mother, comes around with her baby in a pram to find one of the hooligans – the father of the child. He refuses to acknowledge the child as his. They argue, she storms off, and leaves the child behind. This is where things get messy. The hooligans begin to tease and torture the child, treating it with less compassion than if it were a farm animal. At first they just pretend the pram is a weapon to mow each other down with. But, soon enough, they begin pinching and punching the baby, then smearing its own shit all over it. Finally, the violence escalates into a game of stone-throwing with the child as the target.

There’s nothing quite as horrific as this moment, but the most shocking thing is the play’s determination to grasp at any grains of hope it can find. Most of the play’s characters are devoid of much humanity but they aren’t inhuman. They are symbols and products of social discord: men and women without jobs or dreams. We have but one ray of hope throughout the play: Len, the dopey but well-meaning lad who moves in with Pam and her parents at the beginning of the play as their tenant. He lingers around doing what he can, not quite friend or family but there nonetheless. He exists as evidence of some remaining moral compass in society and proof of possibility, though we don’t yet know what possibility that may be.

In the final moments of the play, Len is sitting down in the living room with Pam and her parents in silence. There has been conflict and strife. Pam has lost her child but seems to lash out with superficial concerns, blaming all those around her. Her parents have had a terrible fight after years of barely talking to each other. Len is at the center of all this though none of it is his fault. He could move out and start again, but that would be running away. So, he stays. He takes their broken chair and attempts to fix it. It is not easy to be optimistic and it certainly isn’t a happy ending. But it’s a start.

In Praise of Non-Traditional Venues

Shakespeare's Problems at Lucha Lounge

“If the stage cannot be richer than the text then let it be poorer.” –  Jerzy Grotowski

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Shakespeare’s Problems directed by Patrick Graham. It contained three abridged problem plays (named as such because they are not easily categorised as comedy or tragedy) from Shakespeare’s canon: Measure for Measure, Timon of Athens and All’s Well That Ends Well.

It was staged at the Lucha Lounge, which can be described as a tiny indie music bar, using the floor as the stage. Not your usual venue for theatre, let alone Shakespeare’s plays. The main bar and backdoor area was crammed full of about two dozen people. It was an incredibly intimate experience if you were comfortable enough to immerse yourself into the narrative. Ay, there’s the rub: comfort. A couple of people ended up spilling over the edge from where they could see the actors or were forced to sit or stand in awkward positions. Being so close yet unable to ease into the show can cause a sort of unintentional distancing effect.

But I have nothing but praise for any theatre company putting something of quality on for what I imagine to be a shoe-string budget. The performances are passionate and filled with clarity, and the excerpts from each play standalone effectively, despite a lot of context being trimmed out. I even found myself ruminating over the possibilities of potential plays for different types of non-traditional venues too, and the ways to optimise such venues.

In Shakespeare’s Problems, the scene that achieved a unique closeness and intimacy was the dialogue between Parolles and Helena from All’s Well That Ends Well regarding virginity. This was doubly due to the fact I had one of the best seats in the house for that particular moment, as the actors sat in a tiny corner out the back of the bar. This goes to show that a key element in non-traditional venues should be: blocking and comfortable seating. These are obvious and crucial elements in theatre normally, but in this scenario they are almost as important as the performance itself in creating an air of intimacy.


Another notable example of non-traditional venue use in New Zealand theatre is Eli Kent’s The Intricate Art of Actually Caring, originally staged in the confines of his bedroom. The basis of the story revolves around a road trip between two twentysomething mates. Simple enough stuff, but the ingenuity of turning one’s bedroom into this private world where we, the audience of no more than a dozen or so people, are gifted with the privilege to enter, is such a beautiful and moving conceit. The room becomes the vehicle of not only the road trip, but the vehicle to express themselves privately too. I never had the opportunity to see this show, but I have read the script and its reputation as great fringe theatre precedes itself.

vanya audience

The most famous international example of a non-traditional venue is Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya directed by Andre Gregory. The basic idea was to gather a small group of actors together and rehearse Uncle Vanya for no one but themselves in a run-down, abandoned theatre (without a proper stage). Eventually they decided to invite a few close friends and family to see it. Then they started inviting strangers from the street. And, finally, they invited filmmaker Louis Malle to capture it forever on film (Vanya on 42nd Street). These days it is considered the definitive production of Uncle Vanya (if such thing can exist) by many people, superior to those stiff, dry, almost academic BBC iterations. One could say the show had more in common with a sweet kiss than some broadway spectacle. Should that not be the goal of great theatre?

The Lydia Davis Project: Cockroaches in Autumn

(based on Lydia Davis’ short story ‘Cockroaches in Autumn’)

They are so like us, despondent
And quick to scatter at
First sign of danger:
A moving hand,
A rolled-up newspaper,
A falling foot.

Disgusting as they are to us
We cannot but help
Respect their stubbornness
To live. Their
To Survive.

What better way to
Prove you live
Than not
To die?