Saturday Night Forever is a play that continues to surprise me. I wrote it in 1998 when I was 23-years old and living in a flat near Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. Ever since leaving University I’d done my best to withstand responsibility. I wrote plays, partied and thought anything was possible. It was.
Within minutes of deciding I would produce the play myself, I started roping in director Steve Fisher, designer Carolyn Willits, her future husband Simon Wheatley as stage manager and the actor Sean Carlsen, to do just that. We had a lot of optimism and very little money. Against the odds, we staged the play and were surprised by its success. Audiences warmed to the character and the depiction of Cardiff at night.
A Cardiff-run sold out and Sean and Simon went to Edinburgh to perform it for a week at the venue managed by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. I didn’t go; I couldn’t afford to. I stayed in Cardiff to write an episode of a TV series that would pay Saturday Night Forever’s mounting debts.
The Edinburgh performances ended and we moved on. I was invited to take up a playwriting residency in Sydney and Saturday Night Forever was forgotten about.
It was a surprise 3-years later when Steve – the director of the original production – contacted me to say he wanted to stage it again. Steve had recently landed the job of Associate Director at the Sherman Theatre and had the resources to mount a full-scale touring production with the actor Darren Lawrence.
Older and wiser, I agreed to rewrite the play. It was staged successfully again in Cardiff and across Wales. My favourite story about this time was when a gang of baffled Dutch tourists turned up at the theatre expecting to see Saturday Night Fever and sat in the auditorium wondering why Darren wasn’t wearing the iconic white suit.
Fast-forward to 2014 and a request from Aberystwyth Arts Centre to mount a new production of the play. I assumed I would be required to update it. I didn’t remember the text very well but knew it was littered with pop-culture references that were no longer relevant. We discussed whether it should be performed as a ‘memory play’ or whether it should be a contemporary piece. Sadly the play’s central incident is still relevant and I chose to update the text to place the action very much in the here and now.
I started work on the play believing all I needed to do was update the references, excise some of the stickier lines and give it some TLC. However, after reading the play I realised updating the text was going to be a greater undertaking than I’d at first imagined. I hadn’t appreciated quite how much had changed in the fourteen years since 2001.
Society is far more accepting of gay lifestyles, there’s equal marriage and more and more gay people are becoming parents.
Technology has radically changed the way we live. Mobile ‘phones weren’t commonplace when the play was written, and Facebook and Grindr were the stuff of science fiction. Today, we rely on these developments and they’re represented in the fabric of the play.
In the original version Matthew returned home from an afternoon’s shopping to watch Blind Date on TV but in the new version he slumps on the sofa to message friends on Facebook. People don’t really play CDs anymore and moisturising is something practiced by most men – regardless of sexuality. We don’t eat Fuse chocolate bars, CD:UK is no longer a fixture of Saturday morning TV and DJs don’t play Kylie and Madonna as often as they did. (I don’t actually know as I haven’t been clubbing for a very long time.)
Cardiff has always been a key character in the play and the city has changed tremendously over the years. The Bay has been redeveloped, Saint David’s 2 has been built, Barker’s sells coffee not clothes, Westworld and Chessmen have gone, Ha-Ha’s has closed, and the gay bars and clubs we frequented in the ’90s have shut up shop.
Most startlingly however I was confronted by how I’ve changed. As a writer and a person. I was 23 when I wrote the play originally and now I’m 41. I didn’t have any responsibility other than paying the rent, and now I’m in a Civil Partnership, mortgaged to the hilt with a 5-year old son, a dog called Cwtsh and my own business.
Looking back at how I’ve changed, and how the world’s changed around me through the words on the page was surprising but it become therapeutic. I’ve been lucky enough to take the time to think about my journey over the last 18-years and who knows, maybe I’ll get to do it again in another 18.
Stephen Stratford review:
Mike Smith review:
Saturday Night Forever
Written by Roger Williams, directed by Kate Wasserberg and performed by Delme Thomas
Chapter Arts Centre
27 – 30 July