Steve Cramer talks to one of Britain’s most internationally acclaimed, but locally neglected dramatists, Edward Bond, about children, violence and theatre
Steve Cramer A lot of your work involves the use of violence, both physical and psychological. Why do you think this is so prevalent in society?
Edward Bond Human beings have a capacity, but not a need to be violent. In our society we have a basic contradiction. We live in a democracy, which means it’s a political system which wants to ensure justice and equality for everybody within the system. This is different from other forms of government not based on freedom and choice but on doing what you’re told. So democracy is superior to any other political system that we’ve got so far. But there’s a flaw because we live in an economic system, a money system, a consumer system, which must create injustice. It’s like being told we’re fish who have feathers – we’ve got it wrong. There are, as a result, all kinds of resentment, all kinds of ideological straightjackets that try to force people into various forms of behaviour, and I think it becomes the opposite of freedom, and I think there’s a very basic need in human beings, which is the passion for freedom.
SC In your 2000 play, The Children, here presented by Dundee Rep, you present a nightmare scenario of a bleak future for children in a technologised society. What’s your attitude to the young?
EB I write for children because children ask all the profound questions that philosophers ask – Plato and Aristotle and Kant and so on. They don’t have that academic language, but they ask the same things. They’re not actually asking what is the price of this in the shop, what is my mortgage going to be, what’s the rate of inflation. These might be absolutely vital questions for adults, but children are free enough to talk about freedom.
SC And adults?
EB The adults in this play are not evil or wicked, they are just people who have been corrupted, damaged, made dangerous by their experience. They want revenge. On the original first night, I heard two women come out of the theatre and one said ‘Oh my God . . .’ I thought she was going to go on and criticise the play, but she said ‘. . . I talk to my children like that!’
SC The Children seems to exemplify the way in which you are accepted overseas as a major voice in international drama, but here in the UK your work is quite neglected.
EB The Children is virtually never off the stage in France. Someone described it to me as a classic the other day. So too my War plays were done once in England, and never in Scotland, while in France they’re part of the Baccalaureate.
SC Your work seems to create real suspicion within the British theatre. Is this partially because of the techniques employed in presenting theatre here?
EB This is my quarrel with the English theatre. There are great actors, but they have this thing of saying, ‘How are we going to do this, how will we stage that?’ and I say back, ‘Yes, but what does it mean?’ That’s the difference between theatre and drama. Drama has meaning, but theatre is effect. This is why young people are so good in my plays, because the meaning is more important than the effect. When a child comes to you and says, ‘Look daddy I’ve cut my finger’ you don’t say, ‘That’s not a very big cut, can you go away and get a bigger one’. Our theatre wants a bigger cut for effect, whereas I say, that’s a small cut, but it’s a cut in the child’s soul.
The Children, Dundee Rep, Thu 17–Sat 19 Jan.