Brutal But Brilliant at the Lyric

Nick Hennegan on the first re-staging of 'Saved' for 25 years


Billy Seymour (Colin) Tom Padley (Pete) Bradley Gardner (Barry) - Photo by Simon Kane

Morgan Watkins (Len) & Lia Saville (Pam) - Photo by Simon Kane

Saved is on at the Lyric Hammersmith until 5th November

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Mention ‘Saved' to anyone with any sort of academic interest in theatre and they will tell you they know of it, although this is the first time in over 25 years it has had a major re-staging in London. Edward Bond's study of a generation of young people living on a neglected housing estate in South London became a historically momentous work, first staged in 1965 at the Royal Court in spite of a ban from the Lord Chamberlain.

It's not a comfortable night at the theatre and there are flaws with this production – characters shout and diction occasionally disappears. Some of the dialogue is from a much older ‘street' and feels gently dated. But the basic message stays the same – cultural poverty and neglect will have consequences for us all, especially the neglected.

Sean Holmes' Brechtian production has the rawness of a kitchen sink drama, told through thirteen scenes with a minimalist set and white noise in the scene changes.

At the heart of the story are Pam and Len. Pam lives an unfulfilled life. Her parents are cold automatons; the baby she hoped would win the heart of its bad-boy father is unwanted, unnamed and unloved. Gentle, decent Len is a totem of a normality she cannot comprehend. Her child has no name. In one scene the entire household gets on with the minutiae of an evening at home while the baby screams upstairs. Only when Pam wants to have sex with her boyfriend is it attended to, and then only to move it elsewhere.

There are some strong performances. Morgan Watkins is moving as gangly Len, and Lia Saville is an attractive but damaged Pam, incapable of introspection or understanding.

The narrative is not particularly strong but perhaps that's the point. And it's certainly not without humour. The central scene before the interval, which is now so well known it's not spoiling anything to mention it, when a gang of youths stone Pam's baby to death, is made all the more horrific by the lack of impact it has on the main characters after the act. And there can be few scenes in modern theatre that can still extract gasps of horror from an audience.

‘Saved' is credited with helping to remove the Lord Chamberlain's authority in 1968. It also influenced more recent playwrights - Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill are both quoted in the programme. And with the recent UK riots, it's an inspired move by Sean Holmes to remind us of what theatre and good culture can do in the debate about the values of our society.

Nick Hennegan

October 15, 2011