I WONDER if fashion will drop Edward Bond as capriciously as it did George Bernard Shaw.
It would be a grim irony to see the doyen of the new writing spurned by academics but exhumed with gusto on Shaftesbury Avenue and in the safer reps.
Certainly the two writers have a surprising amount in common. They both wrote an awful lot and share a marked proclivity for the long preface, both were banned by the Lord Chamberlain to become the foremost writers of their generation, they have both been blessed with a deadly gift of irony, and cursed with a tendency to preach. Above all they are both committed to rebuilding society from its very foundations and Bond's latest play, Summer, develops his argument. Kindness is no substitute for justice, and charity can be evil, if it distracts us in our struggle for a rational society — Bond's
premise echoes through the story of Xenia.
In middle age, Xenia returns to the Mediterranean island her father ran before the war. During the Nazi occupation her family helped the islanders and she herself interceded for the life of a maid.
Neither the maid nor the islanders seem grateful and her family is kicked out after the liberation. Xenia's bewilderment increases when she meets a jolly EEC German who reveals that he was part of the occupying force, and excuses his national crimes as the only means of protecting the old European orders.
For him and his be-swastickad chums the old Europe was symbolised by an anonymous young girl, who appeared on the terrace of her fathers mansion. Xenia's iciness turns to horror when she realises that she was that same girl.
'We were at war for her!' exclaims the German and his eyes mist with sentiment. Xenia however cannot connect: if Germany waged war to protect Xenia's world, how can Xenia's kindnesses make amends.
Plays with long speeches about past events tend to bore, but Bond's technique is so spare, his arguments so lucid, his characterisation so impartial, it is difficult not to hang on every word. Whether or not you accept his conclusions, he leaves the intellect challenged rather than flattered and that particular probity is rare.
The production is marred by a clumsy and uneloquent set that takes too long and six stage hands to manoeuvre. Nor are the actors allowed to move props between scenes: this demarcation may be lovely for the unions, but it is crazy to keep the audience twiddling their thumbs while a stage-hand re-adjusts the cutlery.
Rebuilding a rational society could well start backstage at the Cottesloe.
The pace is wrecked by these lapses, but some electric performances make up. Anna Massey and Yvonne Bryceland make every word tell, every nuance is felt and David Ryall is entirely credible as a cuddly Nazi.