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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Shifts of distance in five plays by Edward Bond Connell, Penelope Lee


Notorious for their "aggro" effects, Bond's plays have shocked and mystified critics and audiences throughout his career. Bond's politics contributes to the sensationalism of his work, in that his insistence on moral education seems at odds with conventional moral codes. But study of his plays suggests that style shifts, fragmentation of dramatic structure and an unusual attitude to character create real difficulties for the spectator. How to accept the "reality" of the action, how to "read" ambiguous action - such considerations force continual shifts in distance between audience and play. I explore how Bond works for these shifts, to what extent he succeeds in achieving them, and what his success means for his theatre and politics. The concept of distance is itself problematical. Chaim describes it as having three aspects: it is willed by the spectator; being fiction, it permits an emotional response; and it allows for a suspension of judgement by the standards of reality. Bond aims to "dramatize analysis" rather than plot or character. Insofar as he explores the relationship between stage and audience, Bond's work contributes to that of other modem artists and theoreticians, including Brecht and Sartre. Bond refines epic form, believing that social and political change do not grow from individual action but can best be understood when processes - of revolution, of awareness -are arrested and evaluated. Standard notions of character are not useful to him. He employs a variety of distancing devices (such as ekphrasis, direct address of the audience, songs and extreme violence) to evoke emotional responses, suspends or truncates the action, bringing the audience's intellect to bear on what it feels. Increasingly, the distancing effects create a "frame" inhabited principally by politically aware characters who analyse the action. In later plays, the theatre itself becomes a paradigm for the restrictiveness of social conventions, with Bond showing that the perceived need to follow (dramatic) conventions destroys human integrity, even life. The continual violation of theatrical conventions disrupts stage-audience distance, but asserts the theatre's power to effect social change, revitalizing the theatre itself.

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