Let’s get one thing clear. Nearly 50 years on, Saved still has the power to shock. Rarely have I been so aware of a silence in an auditorium as the one that followed the ending of that scene last night.
The scene I refer to is, of course, the scene that blew open the censorship debate 50 years ago, the scene that has defined the play over the years - the scene in which a gang of young men stone a baby to death in a pram.
Seeing it in context for the first time (this is the first major revival of Saved in over 25 years), I found myself transfixed with horror the moment the pram wheeled into view.
But in fact, the most shocking thing about the murder, which takes place toward the end of the first half, is not the act itself but the reactions that follow. Only a couple of direct references are made to it afterwards, and not a single character shows especial remorse or anger about what has happened.
And that is largely Bond’s point. That a gang of youths who exist in an ‘underclass’ have inevitably turned on their own in order to give their lives meaning (Bond himself draws a comparison to the recent riots in an extended introduction to the playtext). For them, the stoning provides a glimmer of hope.
Sean Holmes has pulled off a mighty coup in staging the play at all, and has given it a faithful rendering. On a white box stage he has marshalled the action simply and precisely. Everyday activities become laced with subtext; as father Harry (Michael Feast) irons his shirt at a snail's pace we know he’s dying inside. Emotion seeps out of every silence.
He’s cast it superbly. As Pam, the siren-turned-depressed young mother, Lia Saville captures the dreadful antipathy of a woman who utterly fails to comprehend the meaning of unconditional love. As the loyal but emotionally impotent Len, Morgan Watkins is the essence of a good man doing nothing. And as Fred, who in one scene must go from passive fisherman to ruthless killer of his own child, Calum Callaghan manages to make a difficult role his own.
For all its well-documented violence, it’s easy to forget that Saved contains many moments of humour. In the first scene Len, on the verge of a quickie on the sofa with Pam, says matter-of-factly, “This is the life”. And later on Harry tells him that he misses the “peace and tranquility” the Second World War provided compared to his ongoing domestic battles with wife Mary (an excellent Susan Brown).
It's impossible not to view the play through the prism of history. The language is of its time (antique expressions like “what’s his caper” and “I’ll settle you” pepper the dialogue), and certain scenes undoubtedly slip into the territory of contemporary soap opera with wall-trembling rows and crockery-smashing aplenty.
But in an age that seems increasingly obsessed with nostalgic renditions of bygone eras it’s refreshing to see this masterpiece of 'kitchen sink' realism - the inspiration for a generation of in-yer-face playwrights that were to follow - given a well-deserved and timely revival. I doubt it has ever been more relevant.