Cock Tavern, London NW6
Opened 29 October / 2 November, 2010
* / **
The Cock's current repertoire includes a wicked 20-minute parody of the work of Edward Bond entitled There Will Be More. Taking his cue from the infamous baby-stoning in Bond's 1965 play Saved, the author here has a mother suffocate her twin sons in their cradle whilst her husband is dressing for a regimental dinner; on discovering her deed, the colonel is so morally outraged that he rapes her. I imagined a TV ad: "New, stronger formula Edward Bond – when one dead baby just isn't enough."
There are two significant faults to the piece, however. Firstly, it isn't as short and sweet as such a parody needs to be, but is followed after the interval by 75 minutes more of the same, as the mother returns from a bombed-out madhouse 18 years later to encounter her husband and one of the also-twin offspring of the rape; and secondly, it isn't a parody at all but was actually written by Edward Bond.
The piece contains echoes of various Greek myths: the mother, it transpires from the programme although is never mentioned onstage, is named Dea, though she could as easily be 'Nestra, 'Casta or who knows what not else. But frankly, the goings-on here make the blood-boltered house of Atreus look like the Larkins. Adam Spreadbury-Maher's grounding is in directing opera (he is currently bent on turning the renowned King's Head pub theatre into a fringe opera house). To say "it shows" would be to insult much opera direction, but these productions do suggest journeyman stagings in that form. Performers seem to be required to hit their marks, face in a particular direction and strike a certain emotional pitch with each line, rather than to attempt coherence in character or narrative.
It was supposed to be the culmination of a two-month Bond retrospective, but is set fair to taint whatever good work may (unseen by me) have preceded it. The only other piece I attended (which opened a few nights later... mark my dedication) has been Red, Black And Ignorant (1984), an hour-long near-future dystopian chronicle grounded in the nuclear paranoia of the ’80s. Maja Milatovic-Ovadia’s direction is also over-demonstrative, as if playing to an audience of slow children. Bond shows his skill at flinty poetry, but also includes some crass agitprop, and even when his writing feels prophetic it seems like the prophecy of a Cassandra, encouraging repudiation rather than consideration.
"There will be more" are the final words of the new play, a menacing portent not just in itself but as this is apparently part of a much longer work (be afraid, be very afraid) examining the inadequacy of modern drama. But it does not examine this; nor does it act as a moral conscience, indict our complacency or anything of that ilk. What it does is bang on about the same stuff the author has been banging on about for half a century now, try with a bludgeoning desperation to top all that, and fail.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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