To say that Edward Bond sits outside of the theatrical mainstream is to underestimate the distance between Moscow and Siberia. His most significant work is still revived and revered – witness recent high-profile outings for Saved and Bingo – but his new writing has been given a consistently wide berth.
Watching the first two of this newly collected trilogy of one-act plays, it’s not hard to see why. In speaking their harsh truths harshly, they are stylistically unfashionable. As bald, unrepentant and confrontational as Bond himself. Their drama is made of bare essentials – husband, wife, stranger or victim, aggressor, mediator – and their language is direct and undressed. Big abstract statements are served neat. The plays are like bones with the meat boiled off.
Both are set in a dystopian future – 2077 to be precise – in which humanity has been deemed its own worst enemy. However, the restrictions imposed from above are far more destructive.
Have I None shows a post-consumerist society, cooped into blank identikit flats and stripped of personal belongings. Even here, a husband and wife fight each other to retain possession of their pumice-grey chairs. A stranger knocks, in flight from a nearby suicide outbreak, claiming family ties. He’s a sudden throwback to the past.
Sean Holmes draws the brutality out of this sparseness, as Aidan Kelly and Naomi Frederick bark at one another; their voices stinging like acid reflux. There’s a real sense of outside threat, always undefined, which leaves behind a residue of fraught desperation.
Holmes’ approach is to play against the text’s plainness. Bond directs The Under Room himself and does the opposite. The result is excruciating. He gives the text such reverence that 33 pages stretch to 105 minutes. Everything exists on the stage precisely as it does on the page. The result is a constant portentousness, rather than the itchy, spluttered urgency that makes Have I None crackle. As it is, this tale of human trafficking is lifeless and its twisted society feels contrived rather than inhuman.