When I think about the night I went to see two out of three of “The Chair Plays” by Edward Bond, I immediately think of the fact I ate too many sweets on the tube journey home and crawled into bed with stomach ache. I wasn’t over-eating out of boredom or disappointment because the plays were bad, I was consoling myself.
I like to think of myself as a writer and, whilst doing a Masters in Playwrighting, a budding Playwright. I also like to think of myself as a relatively good, although obviously inexperienced, one at that. And then I remember Edward Bond. A writer whose understanding of the English Language is difficult to rival; a man whose visions are both fantastical and disturbing; a craftsman I will spend my career trying, unashamedly, to imitate.
Set in 2077 in a Utilitarian dictatorship, ‘the past’ has been abolished in a desperate attempt to fix the world’s crippling economic crisis and dig societies out of the recession that hit in the early 2000’s. All photos were destroyed, soldiers now roam the streets and even the concept of ‘family’ has been removed. A startling realisation of what things could be like if we carry on, in this world, the way we are.
The first play – ‘Have I None’ – only lasted an hour but was an hour of pure excruciating beauty. Like all of Bond’s work, the message, the internal logic, the execution was painfully clear. Even in a world that was supposedly far removed from our own and yet such a close reflection of it, there was no room to get lost, to feel frustrated or to end up in any way confused.
I feel it’s incredibly important to raise the fact that Edward Bond directed both plays – ‘Have I None’ and ‘The Under Room’ – himself. This, I thought, gave the performances an understanding and authenticity I don’t think another Director could give them. Not that I think any other Director would do an inferior job, but as the Writer, Edward Bond will have known better than anyone what each individual line contributed towards each scene, character or performance in turn.
The second play of the night – ‘The Under Room’ – was set under the same repressive government, with the same ‘standard issue furniture’, in the same time. Except it was a little longer and a little more abstract. Like the first performance, it was amazing. The acting in both was near-flawless, the lighting mimicked wonderfully the sterilised feel of the world and the incidentally music was a lovely little touch (in the second piece, particularly). However, I couldn’t help but feel like ‘The Under Room’ was a little too long for my attention span and the play’s climactic scene was slightly repetitive and managed to become quite awkward towards the end. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why, but there’s only so much sitting on felt-covered planks of wood my little posterior can comfortably manage!
Although I don’t think anything Edward Bond will ever do will be superior to ‘Saved’, ‘I Have None’ and ‘The Under Room’ are certainly strong contestants. They’re Dystopian, they’re a realistic vision of how current political and social issues actually could affect our children’s lives and the cast is phenomenal. Particularly the Irish guy who plays ‘Jams’. I do love a good accent and, I’ll say it, I think Bond does too. He writes like a lyricist – with such rhythm and energy – the words seem to bounce off the actors tongues with childlike excitement. I hope I’m still that excited about writing 4 decades after my seminal piece is released into the world. And, fingers crossed, that world is still full of happy families and photographs – not grey furniture and Eastern European murderous dummies who talk in their sleep!
Performed at the Lyric Hammersmith.