Unseen in 25 years, a new run of Edward Bond’s seminal play Saved has opened at London’s Lyric Hammersmith.
Infamous for its shocking scenes of abuse, the original 1960s production met with outraged response and was heavily censored. This groundbreaking new production triumphs by exploring the source of such vehemently hostile audience reaction – an unforgiving humanism that caused Bond to describe the play as ‘irresponsibly optimistic.’ Under the direction of Sean Holmes, with mesmeric performances from its cast, the audience is forced to confront their outrage at the deplorable acts of violence and, if not relate with, then at least understand the characters who commit them.
Saved is a vivid portrait of working class South London and, at its heart, a domestic environment governed by cyclical conflict. The play’s opening scene is a hilarious courting ritual between lead couple Pam (Lia Saville) and Len the lodger (the outstanding Morgan Watkins) which sets the tone with a brilliant blend of challenging silences, comedy and shock.
After Pam becomes pregnant, the relationship breaks down and by the time the baby arrives, Pam has a begun an obsessive relationship with the lewd and ambivalent Fred. Len refuses to leave the home at the indifference of Pam’s parents. Moments of audience sympathy interrupt grating rows and the appalling neglect of the baby, which culminates in its murder at the hands of Len and Fred’s yobbish friends with both men either directly or indirectly complicit.
Bond suggests the catalyst for his decision to allow a new production was the London rioting that incited a similar contrast of outrage and pleas to understand the youth: “in Saved the young men commit their murder in the park in order to regain their self-respect. Anyone who does not understand this cannot understand the contradictions and torments of living in a modern city.”
During rehearsals, i-D conducted an interview with Lia Saville as she revealed the intense, emotional engagement Saved demands from its actors. Following the traumatic turns of the plot, the characters must seem grotesquely malignant at the same time as inciting sympathy from the audience. There is no doubt the play succeeds at this: in a practically silent final scene the actors stare out at the audience in a kind of mutual understanding – underneath our antagonistic reaction lies a fear of ourselves and, much as we would gall at admitting it, we recognise them just as much as they recognise us.
See more from i-D online on Saved leading lady, Lea Saville here and catch the performance at The Lyric Hammersmith until 5th November.
Text: William Severs
Photography: Simon Kane