Shock, stoning and social decay in Saved

Any discussion of Saved, Edward Bond’s 1965 play about class and social strife in 1960s working-class London, ultimately has to address the 800-tonne gorilla in the room: by the end of the first act, a group of otherwise normal people have stoned a baby to death in its pram. And none of the characters are very concerned about it. However, though the flawed personalities in Saved are able to take it in their stride, the stoning incident has given real-life critics and censors far more grey hairs on its account.

When Saved opened at the Royal Court Theatre, the Lord Chamberlain promptly denied it a licence. The censorship of the work prompted outrage in London, and when the Royal Court exploited a loophole in the law bringing large audiences in as a club theatre, the play’s producers were prosecuted and fined. The public row over the play prompted a loosening of censorship laws; three years later, the play was finally able to perform publicly in its entirety.

Saved captures well the angst and strife gripping London as the cultural and social revolutions of the 1960s fermented and soured into the cultural decay of the 1970s, and the play’s cast does it justice. Jack Flowers is particularly compelling as Fred, stewing and snarling in prison over his bruised reputation. Both he and Madeline Walker (as Mary, the baby’s mother) show a careful awareness of their character’s presences. When Fred towers in his self-absorbed anger over Mary hours after killing her baby, it is Flowers’ measured fury as much as Walker’s meekness that makes such a surreal and absurd scene both believable and fascinating. The easy nonchalance with which the cast blends the sundry with the macabre is impressive, and forms the real heart and focus of the play.

Since the upheaval over its debut, Saved went missing from London stages for decades before a 2011 revival — this time, set against the backdrop of the August riots that roiled the city for days. Today, Saved not only feels relevant to the current state of civil society, but its message almost seems vindicated in an age of austere cuts and arguably increasing social stratification. More than the infanticide by which it made its name, the implications about drift and stagnation in the present-day is the real reason to see the play, and the question left to ponder at its close.

Saved is showing at the Burton Taylor Studio from Tuesday 5th – Saturday 9th November. Tickets are £6/5 and available here.