Warning...this playwright could do your head in

25th November 2005 at 00:00
Carl Miller is engaged by the forhright views of Edward Bond and his supporters

Edward Bond and the Dramatic Child: Edward Bond's plays for young people

Edited by David Davis; Trentham Books pound;17.99

It's hard not to warm to a book which describes a GCSE drama syllabus as an "appalling concoction". Many TES readers will be better placed than I am to judge whether that verdict is just, but this book makes its arguments with the same rhetorical zest as its subject, the playwright Edward Bond.

It is an account of the extraordinary contribution to theatre for young people made by a man who, in a letter to an Ohio school student requesting a signed photo for her "famous person" project, concluded "I advise you to leave your school immediately. Doing so can only be to your advantage."

Bond is by any assessment among Europe's leading playwrights. His early work at the Royal Court Theatre saw a string of modern classic plays (Saved, Lear, The Fool). Yet for more than 10 years no large British theatre has premi red a play by Bond, despite productions elsewhere in the world. Bond is forthright about the theatres which once staged his work: The National Theatre is "an institution of total sleaze", while the RSC "trivialises and vulgarises Shakespeare in a way that's quite barbarous". This book includes forthright criticism by Bond or his supporters of almost every major figure in 20th-century theatre.

Yet there are small, under-funded companies which continue to premi re plays by Bond, touring schools remote from London's culture palaces.

These new plays (At the Inland Sea, Eleven Vests, The Children, Have I None) are no less crafted and expressive than Bond's famous early plays and are among his most significant later writing.

Bond is no shallow populist. Audiences and artists have had the same reaction as a Tameside student working on a Bond poem: "It has done our head in. What does this mean?" Bond's plays do not give their audience a "correct" response to the world, but demand they take profound responsibility for themselves.

Editor David Davis suggests that Bond's "most urgent value as an artist is to the community of educators". He persuasively explores Bond's approach to theatre in the context of work by Dorothy Heathcote, Gavin Bolton and Cecily O'Neill. Tony Coult's accounts of Bond's journey towards theatre for young people and of his television play Tuesday are also useful. Bond says the value he has "is to take young people to the barrier, to the place where they don't know where they are". If that's what you seek to do, his plays could not be more valuable - seek them out.

Carl Miller is an associate director of Unicorn, which opens a new theatre in London on December 1

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