“Has anyone since Brecht written more powerful theater than Edward Bond?” The question is from Philippe Tesson in a review of the play In the Company of Men, directed by Alain Françon at La Colline, in November 1997. Our late columnist thus confirmed “the preeminent place occupied by the British author in the 20th century theater. “But why not say more generally: in the history of theater, why limit Bond’s contribution to the 20th century, why date Bond? What distinguishes him in fact is that he is more than a writer of his time, and that he is akin to the greatest, in the lineage of Greek theater. It would be wrong to reduce it to the dimensions of our century, which does not have the prerogative of violence and cruelty, even if it has pushed back the limits of these. It couldn’t be said better, could it? So, needless to say: Edward Bond, who died on March 3, 2024 in Cambridge, had passed into posterity during his lifetime.

The playwright was born in 1934 in Holloway, a working-class district of north London, into a working-class family of peasant origin. Of his birth, he wrote this poem which sets the lyrical-popular tone of his work: “I was born at half past eight/in the evening on Wednesday July 18, 1934/there was a storm/An hour before my birth my mother washed the stairs of his building so that they would be clean when the midwife walked on them/ In the neighborhood where my mother lived, representatives of the medical profession were considered security agents (…)” He will remember, a little more later, bombings on London which, from the age of five to eleven, hammered his eardrums. He wrote, still in this same poem: “Like all people alive in the middle of this century or born since/I am a citizen of Auschwitz and a citizen of Hiroshima/I am a citizen of the human world which is still to be built. »

He came to the theater through the music hall where his sister worked and especially through the discovery of Shakespeare’s Macbeth which he went to see with his class. He later admitted that he didn’t understand much but he felt that something was happening there. That the human being was not as simple as he seems and that there is a knot of paradoxes within him. From then on, Edward Bond – who stopped his studies at the age of 15 and went to work in the factory, the best university for those who want to understand the harshness of humankind – was always in rebellion. He tried his hand, self-taught, at theater writing for around ten years but his first play was only published in 1961. It had the sublime title: Pope’s Wedding. A title almost as good as Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot.

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The oldest among us will remember the scandal caused by his second play, Sauvés, created in 1965. In this text which describes the dull life of the sub-proletariat, the public was shocked by a scene of the stoning of an infant in his pram. Needless to say, the play was censored, which did not discourage the author since he produced Au petit matin in 1968, a satire of Victorian society. Bond’s work would be like an experiment in limits and the problems it raises are for all eternity: the thirst for money and the power which lead and encumber men, their relationships of domination and submission, their ambitions…

Edward Bond leaves behind a masterful body of work. More than forty plays performed in major institutions – his “comedy” La Mer entered the repertoire of the Comédie-Française in 2016 – but also by more modest troupes. In addition to his theatrical work, Bond also wrote librettos for operas and ballets, screenplays for the cinema including Blow-Up by Michelangelo Antonioni which did not go unnoticed, radio and television plays, theoretical writings, etc. Like the writer Anthony Burgess, Edward Bond analyzed in his own way the problem of evil in our societies. And he is not far from thinking like the author of A Clockwork Orange that the violence of the State, of society, is much worse than that of the individual. And morality has nothing to do here.