The launch of a new Edward
Bond play on the London stage
Is a major event. Bond writes
of our society in hard, often
unyeilding terms, with
unswerving belief in the role
of tragedy in contemporary
theatre. Speaking at the Bush
Theatre, he covered many
subjects, but returned time
and again to the concept of
"Tragedy cannot be captured by the ruling class. It is a
common possession. If you deny the tragic experience
to people, it will come over in vulgarized television
versions, cheapened and sentimentalized. You cannot
have socialism without an art able to mediate tragedy
with its audience," Bond says.
Jackets 2 is a modern tragedy set in an imaginary city
of the future. Ravaged by riots and under army
occupation, the people are crazed for goods and
possessions. The plot centres on the repercussions
that follow the army's attempt to set up a young
squaddie for political martyrdom. It's five years now since the RSC staged The War Games, his last work.
"I find it difficult to tell the truth in the established theatre. The healthy want to he challenged. The sick want
the challenge taken away. Our theatre is sick. People watch Clockwork Orange and imagine they are seeing
something that's not only entertaining but moral," says Bond.
Jackets, after touring with Leicester Haymarket's Education/Outreach Project is coming to the Bush. "I would
write for the main stages again, it the circumstances were such that I could work properly. I'm making new
demands on actors. Actors spend a lot of time thinking how to make an Ayckbourn line interesting but I'm not
interested in lines being interesting. I want to know what they mean. Often amateur performances of my plays get
to the truth of them much more than at, say, the RSC. My stuff relates well to the young because it deals with the
problems which they pick up from society. Older, more sophisticated audiences tend to want to push problems
to one side. Jackets had a diverse audience on tour and got extreme responses from them".
Once a group of non-professional actors publicly rehearsed The Woman in a Manchester refuge for battered
women. "The actors learnt from that experience and I like to think the women got something out of it too.
That they then understood that their problems were not without meaning, they weren't problems to do with
instincts or despair or alcohol, but were problems that are the very substance of civilization." As a gloss on
his anecdote. Bond adds: "We don't take hostages in our society. We simply take five or six years away from
every member of the working class. They die earlier than the rich. They are our hostages."
Bond has always dealt in disturbing analogies. The stoning to death of the baby in Saved (the play which first
brought him to attention 1965) was considered by him a negligible atrocity compared to the "strategic" bombing
of German towns. In Jackets 2, Bond makes the same sort of parallel. Phil, in armed street war finds himself
unable to kill Brian, the young squad - lie, and attempts a defence. He says:
“What's worse? - lootin' from them or working for them? Working for them! - so they can loot us! That's the
crime - an’ it screws up all the rest."
"I don't know if in ten years time, there will be riots on our streets. All I can do as a dramatist, is dramatize the
tensions within society now. If you live in an unjust society that society becomes barbaric. That's why I object to
people in theatre saying it's time we went back to thinking about 'evil' again. 'Evil' doesn't explain things. It simply
tells us we've got a problem. False reasoning is corrupting our society more than violence. I do deal in solutions
but I'm not going to set up a programme. Modern tragedy has to lead to action and I feel Phil has come to an
understanding about his world and will therefore do whatever is necessary."
Bond rarely gives interviews and this one was littered with questions: "Why is it that our society is violent? Why is
it that the likely cause of death for a young black male in America is murder? What brings that about? Are we
Bond finally answers himself: "An injust society produces the violence vhich then justifies the system being as
it is. It's a dead end." Dead ends and deaths, for Bond, are never final. In his plays, he often strikes his most
tragic and poetic chord when the dead are made to return and then to die again after much struggle. In Jackets
Brian's assassination goes awry and he is forced to linger on before facing a second death. Mrs Lewis who has
been driven mad by the events, says to Brian's bereft mother as the play ends:
'You died too - but you came back." For Bond, Marxism is an inspiration, not a prescription. He reverses the old
dictum. History is played the first time as grim farce, and the second time as uItimate tragedy.