The Playgoer: Bond. Edward Bond

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bond. Edward Bond

"The fate of a democracy depends on its drama....[I]f the theater doesn’t change, then Obama will have failed."

-Elder statesman of the British badboy dramatists, Edward Bond. Anyone want to take up that statement?

From Helen Shaw's informative profile of the playwright in this week's Time Out, in advance of Robert Woodruff's new staging of Bond's Chair for Theatre for a New Audience, opening soon.

5 comments:

George Hunka said...

There's much to admire in both Bond's theatre and criticism -- especially in his profound commitment to his own principles and the purpose and political value of theatre -- but I'm afraid this is where his impishness (as Helen calls it) gets the best of him. (Along with his characterization of Beckett's work as "basically antihuman" -- but Beckett's work is very much against the grain of Bond's vision of theatre.) No surprise that Bond dislikes the centrist progressivism of David Hare, either.

For Bond, the value of theatre is precisely in its examination of abstract justice's confrontation with concrete realpolitik, which is, I suppose, what led to his statement about Obama. Even allowing for Bond's aptitude for polemic, though, I think he overestimates the role that the theatre plays in American political life (much less of a role, it could be argued, than in British political life).

Does this mean if the theatre does indeed "change" (to whatever Bond wants it to change to, which is the key to the question here), that Obama will have succeeded?

Parabasis said...

I have to admit, I find both this quote and the letter quoted on George's sit to be absolutely ridiculous. I mean no knock against Bond the dramatist, but in both instances he comes off as an absurd egomaniac.

The implicit abdication of responsibility for one's art form (an abdication that I don't think Bond himself supports) in the above quote is nasty. The sour-grapes-thinly-masquerading-as-artistic-integrity of the letter re: the national theatre is equally gross.

The Playgoer said...

Yes, it's quite an outrageous quote. But I must admit that's what I love about it. And especially in light of all the talk of how Obama will be under pressure from the left...well you don't hear many other leftist activist holding him to THIS standard!

And, indeed, why shouldn't our American presidents be judged by the health of our dramatic arts.

(On second thought, would that make Coolidge & Hoover great presidents for presiding over the 1920s renaissance?)

George Hunka said...

Though I often have problems myself with both Bond's plays and his polemics, I can't bring myself to label him either an egomaniac or a sufferer from the "sour grapes" syndrome. In the first place, his collaborations with both community and children's dramatic groups testify to his willingness to validate the work of a variety of artists when it comes to the staging of his plays; in the second place Bond's work is regularly done in Paris through the work of the Colline theatre and the Festival D’Automne (as well as more frequently here), so in the larger sense it's not as if Bond needs the National. (In the case of the Saved revival, in fact, it appears that the National wanted Bond more.)

Bond describes himself as an "extremist" in this interview with Michael Billington from earlier this year. And he is; and it's maddening. But for Bond, I think, it's a matter of principle and belief, not ego. He has after all been pursuing his career as one of the most important British postwar playwrights since the mid-1960s, and there's little doubt that his work helped to change the direction of the English-language theatre of the 20th century. I'm willing to grant, despite my own feelings about his work, that he speaks from principle and not from selfishness.

Anonymous said...

I agree, George, about the different influence theatre has in the UK compared to the US. Out of curiosity I googled the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, Kent (pop. 42,259) where my high school years were spent in the 60s--it still exists. And the local university has another theatre. Small towns have repertory theatres in the UK (whatever their financial troubles) and, granted, not many stage politically relevant productions, but from these roots the Royal Court, RSC and National--and a host of experimental companies spring.
As for Bond, his integrity is inextricably linked to his view of himself, which makes it easily confused with ego. His statement is not so outrageous, although I would build in some years of delay. The arts inevitably reflect society, so if there isn't a noticeable shift in the kinds of plays and productions--and we can include film, print and music too-- then the US will not have significantly altered and the promise of change (not necessarily Obama himself) will have failed.