The name’s Bond, Edward Bond: A very different take on consumerist culture

The Chair Plays – Hammersmith Lyric Studio, until 05 May

Edward Bond’s one-act Have I None, first performed in 2009, is a lacerating fifty-five minute portrayal of humanity surviving in a post- consumerist world. It hinges on Bond’s neat take on the dystopian vision; usually we are provided with one of two choices, either a world that initially appears to have the trapping of a democracy and people seem to have every whim catered before it becomes obvious that it is sustained by the brutal repression of the masses, Hunger Games being the $£750 million example of this. The alternative is a society controlled by a militaristic bureaucracy where everything seems to exist on a tonal palette running from grey to greyer; Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Pinter’s New World Order both seem appropriate here.

In Have I None, Bond has carved his own path. The play considers a world where humanity has seen society destroy itself through its consumerist appetites; a character describes people buying sports car just to crash them into walls. In response people have turned to the state for action, and the Government has acted by creating ‘resettled’ towns where the past has been banned and the only personal possessions allowed are those provided by the state. It is enforced equality in action.

Those towns that have not been resettled are infected by mass suicide outbreaks, which give Bond a chance to turn his often-underutilised poetic skills to the sight of rows and rows of people in overcoats waiting for their turn to leap from a bridge. It is a classic Bond technique; every-day brutality that is captured by a lyricism that suggests a beauty that attracts and alienates in equal measure.

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The mystery man and the problem play

Bingo – Young Vic, until 31 March

Edward Bond tends to write exactly the sort of plays that you would imagine a British Marxist growing up in a declining post-war England to write. Heavily influenced by Brecht, Bond’s writing operates with a rigidly mechanistic quality that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Soviet factory. There is a brutalism to life in Bond that may have reached its apotheosis in Saved and its infamous scene of a baby stoned to death. Saved, his second play, cemented Bond’s legacy due to the role it played in the battle to overturn the Lord Chamberlain’s Office right to censor works for the stage.

Deliberately challenging his audience and a notoriously prickly individual to work with, Bond has fallen from the public eye and in recent years has worked outside of the mainstream. However the Cock Tavern in Kilburn, now sadly closed, staged a number of older plays alongside new work in 2010 and the Lyric Hammersmith took on Saved in 2011 to suggest that we may finally be rehabiliting ourselves towards one of our most overtly political playwrights.

The Young Vic has continued this process with Bingo; it is seemingly an astute choice, one of Bond’s most accessible plays featuring Shakespeare as its central protagonist, and the casting of Patrick Stewart, who originally played the role in the 1970’s, guaranteed to bring in an audience that might otherwise avoid such austere fare.

Shakespeare retains central to Britain’s cultural heritage and represents the country’s main claim to a true cultural genius to rank alongside Da Vinci and Mozart. Those individuals that command an international agreement of their stature are rare indeed and whenever their legacy is challenged people have a tendency to react defensively.

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