Remembering Edward Bond, Scandalous Playwright

Posted on March 8, 2024

by Eric P

Government control of content in the live theatre had a long and robust history in the UK. Starting in 1737 and continuing for centuries thereafter, every script that a theatre or troupe wanted to perform had to be approved and licensed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, an arm of the royal bureaucracy that also concerned itself with orchestrating royal weddings, funerals, and garden parties. With regard to its theatrical duties, the office served as kind of Food & Drug Administration, except instead of protecting the public from arsenic they were saving it from political satire.

As time went on, numerous artists, including the actor Laurence Olivier, protested that the systematized censorship was limiting British audiences to bland and boring theatre. But the policy persisted until a thirty-year-old playwright named Edward Bond came along in 1964 with a new play called Saved, a gritty drama about aimlessness and violence among the London underclass. It was in-your-face and intermittently shocking, as befitted the times; the Lord Chamberlain’s Office decreed that the Royal Court Theater was forbidden to produce the play without editing it drastically, particularly that one scene with the baby carriage; the Royal Court found a loophole and did it anyway. Just like that, after 227 years, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office had a little more time to spend on approving bridal bouquets and cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches.

So Edward Bond, who died March 3 at the age of 89, basically kicked off his career by altering the national theatrical landscape with a play that attracted polarizing reviews and sparked fistfights in the theater. That’s hard to top. But Bond forged ahead anyway, writing ferocious and opinionated plays like Bingo, The Sea, and The Woman, usually irritating or alienating every collaborator he worked with along the way. An uncompromising original, the man lived his life the way he wrote his plays: making people mad.

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