Sunday, October 17, 2010

The World in Bond’s Plays

If, in Bond’s human-centred vision, religion is a fantasy ____ evasion or a tool of power politics, then world into which we are ____ work, divorced from heir natural environment, like actors in Georgian theatre walking about in front of pained trees and aver much of the suffering and misery that his characters undergo ____ precisely because their social lives have somehow lost contact their existence as elements of the natural world. “We evolved biosphere,” writes Bond, in the Lear preface, “but we live in ____ the way the world of nature the landscape, animals and the biological instincts of man –– is used to sharpen our awareness of the struck that limit human freedom.

Few modern dramatists create landscape quite as vividly Edward Bond. Most dramatists who criticise and analyse ____usually prefer to concentrate on a world dominated by technology and man-made objects. Pinter or Wesker, for example, will ____great care on interiors, detailing props, costume and furniture, Bond who can do these things, will more often be creating ____ outdoor settings. He is perhaps more than any of his contemporary an outdoor playwright, making of the English landscape, even cities, something individual and powerfull, possessed of its own Nature is important not as decoration for the action but because ____ sees there the objective evidence for his own moral sense.
Country Landscape
Apart from Saved, most of his plays take place in country, or in small towns, and they concern themselves with class politics of county communities. Saved, though certainly one of the classic plays of city life, is a play in which nature is conspicuous by its absence, or by the feeble imitations of nature invented people. Some of its most important scenes happen in a park bureaucratically- ordinated imitation of the country for the town ____. In the park there is a pond, an imitation river or lake, for people fish in. It’s hardly surprising that his literally un-natural setting should become a place of menace and threat, where the un-nature boredom and frustration of the young men in the play finds its outcome in child-murder. (It was perhaps not accident that, following saved, Bond wad hired to script Antoonioni’s Blow-up, a film which powerfully conveys the strangely menacing quality of English urban parks). Bond himself has spoken of the world of Saved as “The brick desert, and the feeling of being in the desert of bricks seemed to be absolutely right for the play.
Natural things in the plays are more than simply metaphors for something else. Images like a desert or a sea or a ditch do suggest other levels of experience, but they usually have an immediate physical reality too. When characters use these kinds of metaphors in speech, they are reacting to an environment that is sharply real for them.
Country life seems to occur frequently in Bond’s work because of his family’s history of farm-labouring, and also because of those periods of wartime evacuation which so sharpened his responses to the country. Since 1966, Bond has lived in a village near Cambridge, and his work now draws on that environment, just as Saved drew on his experience of the city: “I didn’t choose to write Saved about a particular place or in a particular dialect. That was the way I talked, and the kind of setting I was familiar with, I now talk rather differently and live somewhere differently… so it would be artificial for me to write another play like Saved now.”
I have claimed that few modern dramatists evoke landscape as well as Bond. Lear shows just how vividly he can draw a landscape without burdening the scene with a specific geography. Thirteen of the eighteen scenes take place out of doors. In the open air, outside man-made buildings, man and nature become part of the same system. Even in cities, it’s difficult to avoid wind, rain or sun, and the less well off you are, the more you will feel the wet and cold and be grateful for the sun. Bond does not set up a man against-nature conflict, but man as part of nature against man as the slave of abstract social devices, such as money.
The landscapes of Lear are drawn with remarkable economy. The opening scene –– Near the wall––sketches in the physical setting.
COUCLILLOR. Isn’t it a swamp on this map?
FONTANELLE. My feet are wet…
LEAR. Who left that would in the mud?... It’s been rotting there for weeks… They treat their men like cattle. When they work they must be kept in dry huts. All these huts are wet.
Stage Directions
After Lear’s fall, the stage directions shift from the muddy squalor of a building site to the woods, and the house of the Gravedigger’s Boy; “Wooden house upstage… A well.” Later scenes show “Prison convoy on a country road”, “Near the wall. Open fields”, “The wall. Steep earth bank.” In other scenes, the landscape detail is still further refined. Both the rebel army led by Cordelia and the Royalists under Bodice and Fontanlle wander round the countryside, each as lost as the other. “We never come straight an, the maps is US”, says one soldier. “I was born in the city. These fields are China t’ me.
In a handful of stage directions and lines of dialogue, Bond creates in Lear a flat, open landscape, but on capable of sustaining life. It is, in fact, very similar to that East Anglin countryside in which he spent important parts of his childhood and in which he now live, indeed, the wall in Lear was suggested by the massive earthworks near his home called Fleam dyke and Devil’s Dyke, thrown up by the East Anglins after the departure of the Romans to protect themselves from marauder, Stretched between forests to the east and fens to the west these huge walls are still visible for miles around, although they are cut through now by roads. The dykes have a hard grandeur, running for miles across flat, wet, rich-soiled farmland cross hatched by drainage ditches. Such a landscape, through which flow gentle rivers, is prone to flooding and one of its most common man made structures is the bridge.
Bridges and Floods
Both bridges and floods recur frequently in Bond’s writing. Bridges carry people safely over danger, but they are structures vulnerable to attach both from nature and from Man. They are therefore symbols both of safety and threat. Bond’s Characters often use a bridge to define some meeting point between safety and danger. In early Morning, Arthur’s mental landscape, for instance, is fear-ridden: “I don’t go near rivers when the bridges are burned. They look like the bones of charred hippopotamuses. “For Albert, they confirm his own despairing ideas of human nature: “Every time you open a bridge you know people will throw selves off it. “I once knew a man who drowned on a bridge in a flood.” For the Old Woman in Bingo, a bridge is a way of mocking Shakespeare’s evasive complacency: “Start building’s bridges when your feet get wet,” When Shakespeare is forced to decide about the enclosure issue, he thinks of the decision, as a river. But the crafty Combe defuses the danger involved in river-crossing: “We needn’t build a bridge if there’s a ford downstream.” A ford is a bridge for cheats and Combe knows that moral cheating is what Shakespeare wants to hear.
Flooding, too, carries a similar ambiguous charge. Rivers swelling beyond their banks, transforming the landscape into inland seas and temporary lakes, are both threatening, and beautiful. The myth of the Flood in Genesis given to the natural event something of the historical force that popular thinking now sees in the idea of Revolution, a time of vast change, of revolution, and sometimes of widespread death. The Old Woman, for instance, thinks of the seven good years she had with her husband as “Time force the flood.” In The Sea, where huge elemental forces threaten to overwhelm a small, inward-looking community, Evens warns Willy that they body of drowned Colin might not be washed up again by the fickle tides: “Don’t count on it. There might be a flood. Then every thing goes by the board…” He goes on to tell a haunting little parable about a man drowned at sea and washed inland by a flood, which left him hanging in an apple-tree in his own garden, watched by his stranded family. Floods invade the cosy familiarity of things, leveling everything to a sea. But seas were once the source of all life. The Sea opens with a huge storm, which is as fruitfully violent as a difficult birth. The opening stage directions indicate: Passes of water swell up, rattle and churn, and crash back into the sea. Gravel and sand grind slowly. The earth trembles.” At the play’s end, Evens refers back to this tremendous natural event: “I believe in sand and stone and water because the wind stirs them into a dirty sea, and it gives birth to living things.”
Rivers of Water
If seas of water are the breeding ground of life, then that life is often sustained by rivers of water. Rivers occur in Bond’s plays as mute witnesses to all that human life undergoes. In Narrow Road to the Depth North, a river is a place where Basho ignores as abandoned baby, where, thirty years on, he makes his home, the place where Shogo drowns innocent peasants.
Beside another river in the deep north, Kiro and Shogo talk and beside the river in south, Basho regrets drowning the baby while the adult Shogo is publicity dismembered. Finally, a new man, wet as from birth, stumbles half-drowned out of the river to chide Kiro’s corpse for not helping him. A river is, as might be expected, a dominant image in the Opera Libretto. We Come to the River. It is a place where children and old people are murdered by soldiers, an imagined place of refuge for the inmates of an asylum, and finally the symbolic barrier to freedom that the oppressed victims have to cross: “We stand by the river/If there is a bridge we will walk over/If there is no bridge we will made/If the water is deep we will swam/If it is too fast we will build boats/We will stand on the other side. We have leant to march so well that we cannot drown, the living victims, mad men and women, cavort in white sheets, imagining than they have found rest and peace in a river” “O the water is clean and cold and pure! How beautiful I am! Beautiful! Beautiful!”
The river that has flooded and threatens to drown the peasants in the Bundle is seen to have a political meaning in that the landlord uses its natural power as a threat which he can appear to counter with paternalistic care.
A river is central to The Fool, but here it has a very precise economic reality, and therefore, plays an important political role in the action. Bond weds two pieces of history –– the life and madness of the Northampton shire poet John Clare, and the nineteenth-century food riots in Cambridge shire –– in order to seek out some origins of own culture and society. Linking these two histories in the idea of culture, meaning both the creative work produced by a society and the organizing principles of that society. In the Fool, both sorts of culture are rooted firmly in the land, and the play shows the destruction of both. The old relationship of man to the land decays not merely because a new technology makes possible enclosure drainage and factories, but because industrialisation brings with it a new intensification of class relationships. For men and women living in the Fens of East Anglia, life before drainage was undoubtedly hard, but it was feasible. The fens provided food for all in the form of wildfowl and fish, and drier land wad owned by no-one, so cattle could be grazed more or less anywhere. When the common land was fenced in by the new landlords, and the fens drained to create more fields, landowners became possessed of a rich source of income. The poor were simply dispossessed. The justification for all this legalised robbery was Efficiency; and if yield per acre of crops in the only criterion, then enclosure and drainage probably were efficient. In practice, of course, the real results of the changes were that the poor became totally dependent on the land owners who paid wages. They became; in effect, slaves. The Parson, in his Christmas address to the Mummers, offers a landowners’ policy statement in the opening scene.
…But we are entering a new age. An iron age. New Engines, new factories, cities, ways laws. The old ways must go. The noble house and the plough are so slow. Our land must be better used. Forest cut down.

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