Going to the theatre is hard when you have no money. After offering the man at the door a tube of Smarties, and a piece of paper stating, in my own blood, “I.O.U two theatre tickets,” I was becoming slightly desperate. “But-but you don’t understand,” I stammered, stepping forward to import some delicate information. “I am creative,” I patiently explained. “I need stimulation.” I then creatively began to cry until I was allowed to sit in what was essentially the gap between two normal sized seats, taken up by A level students, for a completely reasonable FIFTEEN POUNDS. “Oh A level students,” I sighed fondly, patting one upon the head and offering them a Werther’s Orginal. “I used to be like you, until I went to University and had the carrot of optimism dangled in front of me, only to have it cruelly ripped away when I graduated and now I wander the streets, screaming and screaming…”
Any who I had to shut up then because the play had started and also the A level teacher had told his class to move away from me. The play in question was Edward Bond’s “Saved,” and it was with great joy that I watched the drama unfold with the sense that what I was watching was truly important. Saved was first produced in 1965 but its depiction of life on the council estates of South London is painfully relevant to today. The characters are consumed in a cycle of poverty, a trap that devours its future generations and robs those left of any means of escape. This sense of being trapped is realised beautifully through the claustrophobic set; a huge white back drop pushes the characters to the very edge of the stage, teetering upon it as if pushed to the very edge of their humanity.
This is a world in which the doors of opportunity are firmly shut. In order to achieve freedom from poverty, one must be given tools to escape with, such as education. And yet, increasingly, these means of escape are only available to those that are already free. Without them, the characters of Saved are doomed to repeat the exact pattern of their parents’ generation, poignantly conveyed in the echoing of Mary’s actions within her daughter Pam. The violent death of Pam’s child is a searing symbol for a doomed future in a world of forced repetition. The child’s death serves as a reminder that, ultimately, the only means of freedom for those like Pam is death, and, in this way, the child is saved because in death he gains a freedom that the others can only dream of through their television sets.
It is these television sets that serve as the play’s most disturbing link to the modern day. Technology has now replaced religion as the opium of the masses, and this is exquisitely realised in the moment where, prompted to do something about her child’s cries, Pam simply turns the volume up on the television. Trapped in the cycle of poverty, technology provides the perfect pacifier of an oppressed class. I can’t be that poor, because I have a nice phone so it doesn’t matter that I can’t afford to go to university. Why would I want to escape a world of poverty when the television gives me all the escapism I need? The recent London riots serve as an awful reminder of this too; instead of attempting to achieve freedom from poverty through creating some kind of revolution, material modes of escapism, such as television sets were raided because that is the only sense of freedom the youth know.
The violence of the riots, like the violence of Pam’s child’s death also encapsulates the anger of the working class, the frustration at this sense of entrapment permeating through the barriers. This is most strongly conveyed not only with the baby’s death but also the violent exchange between Pam’s parents in which Mary yields her tea cup as a symbol of her domestic oppression and uses it as a weapon against her husband.
Despite the visceral shock of the baby’s death, it is ultimately Freddy, the child’s murderer, who is conveyed as the victim. Sentenced to a prison for his part in the murder, Callum Callaghan, as Freddy, perfectly conveys the damage of a character that appears more dangerous after his release than during the murder. Freddy is trapped; he is part of a class that has been abused and let down by the state and Freddy is angry about it. Unfortunately for Freddy, he is not equipped with the means of communicating his anger through words because he has been deprived of education and he is left to do it with his fists. The state is right to punish him, and yet, it smacks of a caged animal attacking the circus owner. Turning to violence in response to the freedom he is deprived of, Freddy is simply put in a bigger cage.