Theatre Group’s production of Edward Bond’s Saved had a lot to live up to; as if being the first play of the year wasn’t enough, before 2011 Saved hadn’t been seen on stage for 27 years. A censorship scandal and an infamously violent scene shroud its reputation, and rumour has it Bond gave personal endorsement for this particular production. To top it off, a near enough full audience were in attendance on opening night: talk about pressure.
Saved follows a group of disillusioned youths living on a council estate in 1960’s south-east London. Gritty and uncompromising, it portrays the cultural poverty and frustration of a young generation.
Unquestionably, Saved’s best asset was its cast. Jen Pritchard as Pam effortlessly carried the play forward and was enchanting to watch. She perfectly trod the line between vulnerability and egomania, keeping the audience constantly on their toes. Elliot Brough as Pam’s on-then-off lover, Len, was also outstanding, his portrayal of a man’s unfaltering kindness to a disinterested woman agonising to watch. Of notable mention too was Hugo Salter as Pete and Lily Melhuish and Will Maylunn as Mary and Harry, Pam’s parents, with a commitment to two difficult roles which was both admirable and exceptional.
However, I couldn’t ascertain whether a scandalous scene in which a baby is stoned to death was a success. Undeniably horrific it was, but its gratuitous brutality evaporated every time the fake doll’s head representing the baby popped into vision. In addition, the second half seemed a poor substitute for the drama of the first. After said violence (and a harrowing moment where Pam, unknowingly, wheels off her dead baby) it seemed as though the play had nowhere left to go. Surely this was a part of Bond’s plan, but it meant towards the end the audience’s restlessness was more than discernible. This was a huge shame as a touching scene between Lenny and Harry became virtually redundant. Although the final moments managed to claw back some attention, I can’t help but feel their subtleties were lost amongst the hordes of shuffling feet.
For acting talent alone this production deserves excessive praise, and if we consider its aim of disturbing and provoking its audience, then Saved can’t be seen as anything less than a triumph. However there was something lacking, meaning this production was sadly not the roaring success it could have been.