Edward Bond (b. July 18, 1934) is among the most influential and intellectual of modern British playwrights. Following George Bernard Shaw, he has revived the practice of writing lengthy introductory essays to his dramas, and his socialist politics recall Shavian progressivism and Brechtian Epic Theater. Looking forward, Bond forms one of the missing links between the socially critical “Angry Young Men” plays of the postwar era and the graphic experimentalism of contemporary figures such as Sarah Kane, Martin Crimp, Mark Ravenhill, and Martin McDonagh.
Born in North London to a working-class family, Bond suffered a traumatic childhood, evacuated to the countryside during World War II and personally experiencing the Blitz in 1940 and 1944. Bond had little formal schooling after the age of 15 – his agricultural-laborer father was illiterate – and much of his work has the passionate erudition of the autodidact. He served in the British Army occupying forces in Vienna from 1953 to 1955, an experience he found so violent that he turned to writing for the theatre.
Fittingly, Bond’s plays often blend spectacular violence with a deep concern for social justice, dramatizing the ambiguities between individuals and the societies in which they live. He is perhaps most well known for Saved (1964), instantly notorious for its scene of a baby being stoned to death in its carriage. Inspiring immediate furor, Saved ended the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship of plays, a practice that had continued uninterrupted since 1737. Bond has since written more than 50 plays, many of them adaptations from the dark corners of the classical repertory. Working tirelessly, he has shown an interest in extreme dramaturgies, from Revenge Tragedy (The White Devil, 1976), to German Expressionism (Spring Awakening, 1974) and Restoration comedy (Restoration, 1979). Almost always, he looks back at previous historical eras with an unsparing eye, exposing social tensions and prejudices previously overlooked.
Which brings us to Bingo (1973), and its depiction of William Shakespeare, living in Stratford in late 1615. The play ponders the ambiguities of Shakespeare’s life and society. How could the man who wrote King Lear retire to the country and stop writing plays? How could a man who so tenderly evoked the suffering of humanity, alone on the heath, have also been a shrewd businessman and landlord, turning his own neighbors into Poor Toms? With daring imagination, Bond plunges us into the panorama of early 17th-century Warwickshire: a world of religious strife and spectacular, public violence.
Like all of Bond’s work, Bingo has inspired controversy. Some find the play didactic, lording its moral superiority over the flawed Shakespeare. Others may agree with Michael Billington, who recently named it one of the 100 best plays of all time, and calls the work a “bony masterpiece.” Ultimately, perhaps, the play is a portrait of the artist himself, a hard look at the costs of depicting suffering and cruelty, while seeing it pass by in the real world. “Art has very practical consequences,” Bond said in an interview with the Sunday Times. “Most ‘cultural appreciation’ ignores this and is no more relevant than a game of Bingo. And less honest.”