A Difference of Opinion
Saved. (Royal Court Theatre Club.)—Schweyk in the Second World War. (Nottingham Playhouse.) '(`Just Royal Court is in the dog house again. -(`Just like old times,' said George Devine.) When the third new play opened last week, and belied its title according to the next morning's Papers, I asked the new director how he felt. Mr., Gaskill said he• firmly believed in all three plays and most of all in Saved. He agreed that the notices would almost certainly keep people away from om the theatre. His attitude was much the same as the hero's in Saved, when the girl won't let him stay the night: 'You're the loser.' Mr. Gaskill found the play satisfying, profound and original: Have you ever seen a baby stoned to death on the stage before? Or a flabby old bag rousing sexual excitement in a young man? I think it is a triumph to have these things put on the stage.' He added that of all the modern plays he had read, Edward Bond's Saved reminded him most strongly of Chekhov: 'And Ohekhov baffled the critics for fifty years.' All of which puts him in a very strong position vis-a-vis anyone who !did not like the play. I
disagreed with him on almost every point;
Saved seemed to me far from baffling. Its points of reference were transparent: four characters
share a cramped South London tenement, much
play is made with Radio Times and the hoary old ironing board, jading silence occasionally
gives way to flaming rows. They would like to talk about honour and manhood, prison and the war, but their vocabulary as much as apathy lets them down. Inarticulacy is pretty much a beaten track on the stage by now. but it still needs tactful handling. The inarticulacy of these characters is often excessively boring, and it betrays Mr. Bond into another weakness—a weakness which he shares incidentally with Noel Coward. It leads to the unspoken assumption that some things are serious (sacred used to be the word) and in turn to sentimentality, since they can't be discussed but need to be taken at face value. So, Mum and Dad lost a baby son, and we must take the hint as best we may since there is nothing more to be said about that.
Mum and Dad have not been on speaking terms for years, and by the end of the play Pam and Lenny aren't speaking either. At times Mr. Bond seems to be deliberately guying all the other plays of our times about non- communication. I can see why the last scene is played in silence, to ram home the point that the four aren't speaking, but the play is riddled with clichés which cannot all be excused on grounds of earnestness. Pam, for instance, has an obvious reason for wearing her slip, and so has Mum when she sets up in competition. But not Dad, whose combinations are dragged in willy-nilly, and as for Lenny, it is the merest gesture to artifice when he strips off his trousers in Act 2.
The reason, Mr. Gaskill told me, why Saved reminded him of Chekhov, was that 'it doesn't
make any moral statements. Though it is, of course, an immensely moral play.' In the few scenes where the amosphere of conventional joylessness lifted sufficiently for the characters to emerge as real people, they did seem sympa- thetic. But in their joint anxiety not to condemn their characters, director and playwright seem to have overlooked that you can't suspend judgment on a vacuum. The murder of the baby, played with studious, self-defeating naturalism, failed to make even an educational point. So did Mum's attempt to seduce Lenny. One could per- fectly well imagine, from seeing her in it. what Mum would look like without her dress. When she lifted her skirt, we were denied both the fascination of watching privately through a key- hole, and the pleasure of seeing it dramatised. It was altogether a very denying play. Porno- graphy and violence effectively sterilised--which is the theatre's revenge on the documentary.
Brecht's Schweyk has no pretensions to be more than a script for a set of brilliant farcers, which the Nottingham company notably lack. But they have one to whom even Brian Rix might dip the flag. John Neville charts every shoal on the farcer's voyage from impassivity, via amazement, incredulity, bafflement, to discomposure. From scanning the stage tilted comfortably far back in his swivel chair, to the moment when his monocle starts from his eye with a fierce volition of its own. His portrait of SS Lieutenant Bullinger, sadist, bully, maniac, is unnerving. Farce on this level of desperate conviction offers one solution to the problem of presenting the Nazi regime on the stage without minimising or deadening its horrors.