Entertainment & Arts

Saved still shocks, says original cast member

Bradley Gardner as Barry in Saved
Image caption Stage shocker: Bradley Gardner as Barry in Saved

A rare revival of Edward Bond's notorious 1960s play Saved has proved that it still has the power to shock.

The play caused uproar when first staged at the Royal Court for a scene in which a group of young men stone to death a baby in a pram.

Among the audience on this week's opening night at the Lyric Hammersmith was actor Tony Selby, who appeared in the original 1965 production.

"I'm still quite shocked by it," he told the BBC afterwards.

It was the first time Selby had seen the play since he appeared in it 46 years ago.

"It was quite weird, but still I remembered a lot of the lines," the 73-year-old actor said.

The Lyric's revival, directed by Sean Holmes, is the first major London production in more than 25 years. Playwright Bond rarely allows the work to be performed.

A study of frustrated youth set on a south London estate, Saved was originally banned by the Lord Chamberlain's office which was, at that time, responsible for licensing and censoring plays.

As Selby recalls, it had to be shown at the Royal Court as a private show.

"They were trying to close the play down. I remember Bill [director William Gaskill] saying, 'we're going to have to make the theatre into a club'. You had to join the club to see the play.

"During the performance I heard a few seats go bang as people left because they couldn't face it."

Image caption Tony Selby (right) with Vicky Turner in BBC TV's Up The Junction in 1965

Selby's TV appearances include 1970s RAF sitcom Get Some In! and 1980s Doctor Who, where he played recurring character Sabalom Glitz.

In 1965, he appeared in a series of BBC Wednesday Plays directed by Ken Loach, including Nell Dunn's portrait of working class Londoners, Up The Junction.

In the original production of Saved, later the same year, he played the character of Fred in a cast that included Ronald Pickup and a teenage Dennis Waterman.

"I understood the play intuitively because I grew up on a south London housing estate," said Selby.

"I remember kids throwing stones at squirrels, and at ducks in Battersea Park, so it was a horrendous extension of that."

Selby adds: "Bill directed it very sensitively. We used to discuss about treading carefully here and there. It was a very challenging piece to do."

'Chilling picture'

Reviews of the new production note its ability to rattle modern audiences.

"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," wrote Theo Bosanquet for whatsonstage.com.

Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard said: "While the play is gruelling, in the context of this summer's riots it feels resonant - a chilling picture of aimless lives and the indifference of society."

In his Guardian review, Michael Billington was struck by the way violence threads its way through every scene.

He concluded: "As the title implies, this is ultimately a play about the possibility of redemption. As a piece of theatre, it also has an austere clarity that is beautifully realised in Holmes's production."

Meanwhile, David Benedict for The Arts Desk noted Holmes's respect for Bond's original text.

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Media captionPlaywright Edward Bond and former Times theatre critic Benedict Nightingale analyse the play Saved

"You can, however, have too much of a good thing. Long before the three hours and five minutes' running time is up, you realise that in this over-deliberate production, respect has curdled into reverence."

Saved's last London revival was at the Royal Court in 1984 in a production directed by Danny Boyle. The last professional production in the UK was at Bolton in 1998.

Bond's work, which often confronts audiences with scenes of shocking violence, has been an inspiration to younger dramatists like Mark Ravenhill and the late Sarah Kane.

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