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Edward Bond’s Dea review at Secombe Theatre, Sutton – ‘as boring as it is brutal’

A scene from Dea at the Secombe Theatre

Edward Bond has earned the right to be taken seriously. Regardless of the press-baiting soundbites he provides (“War Horse? Obscene!”), his open disdain for both the contemporary industry and the art it cultivates, and the relative obscurity of his more recent work, he is a towering figure of 20th-century theatrical history.

There is some meat and material in his latest work Dea to justify that respect, but it is frittered away in a toxic mixture of spleen and technical ineptitude.

The ostensive source material is Medea, though in truth the play owes more to Sarah Kane’s infinitely superior Blasted. Like Kane’s play, ironically itself influenced by Bond’s early work, Dea’s theme is the interplay between personal and political violence, the failure of anything except atrocity to explain atrocity.

Obscene acts of violence are legion but inert. There are rapes of every variety (marital, incestuous, gang, necrophilic), babies are slaughtered, corpses violated, but it’s all completed with the technical ability and dramatic finesse of a village hall Grand Guignol. Its virulent misogyny may seek to make potent the horrors of war and life post-Thatcherism, but it’s a lazy and diminished instrument. Helen Bang provides a measure of quality as the relentlessly abused Medea, but elsewhere performances are uninspiring.

Bond’s decision to direct his own work is as disastrous as his failure to hire a dramaturg, in a three-hour undertaking that’s as boring as it is brutal. What Bond spins as a refusal to play by the rules of the industry in reality simply places him outside of the reach of anyone with the clout to say no to him. The real tragedy of Dea is one of talent devoured by tyranny.

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New play by Edward Bond that manages to be both obscenely violent and outrageously boring