This week Chapter Arts Centre has been running a series of ‘Edinburgh Previews’ as a warm up for the Edinburgh Fringe, which takes place in August. As such recent popular Wales based shows have been revived such as August012’s Yuri, Difficult Stage’s Alix in Wundergarten, and Saturday Night Forever written by Roger Williams. The last of these I went along to see.
The production is presented by Aberystwyth Arts Centre, a well established and international renowned Arts organisation consistently producing and housing excellent theatre, and South Wales theatre production company Joio, which was established by the author.
Originally produced in Chapter on a tight budget in 1998, directed by Steve Fisher, and then revived with a bit more resources behind it when Fisher became Associate Director at the Sherman, this play has real working and evolving relationship with the city it represents. Williams has updated the script to paint a picture of current day Cardiff gay scene, and this turns out to be a very important move.
The play takes the form of a monologue from its protagonist, Lee (Delme Thomas) describing, with wonderfully convoluted adjectives, the Cardiff gay scene as he experiences it: with dread. He first tells of his Grinder hook up Matthew, which turned into a 3 month relationship. Lee tells us how this relationship was basically all about a series of Saturday nights out with him avoiding the dance floor, a site that his partner relished. Having ended the relationship, and after an awkward start, Lee starts seeing Carl. The play suddenly turns into a soppy love story – soppy in the same way as when your best friend starts seeing someone and goes on and on about their new love. At this point you would be forgiven for thinking ‘this is lovely, but it is all too happy’.
Then towards the end of the play; the whole world that you have been masterfully sucked into gets turned on its head. Lee tells us about the night out to celebrate the 6 month point in his new relationship when he and Carl are set upon in a horrific homophobic attack. The suddenness of this was perfectly timed and reeks of ‘authenticity’. And this is why it was so important that Roger Williams update the script to a contemporary back drop.
At the time of writing the original, while homosexuality had been legal for just over three decades in the UK, there were no civil unions, and no equal marriage. Now in 2016, despite major strides in equality movements, homophobic physical and verbal attacks still happen on a regular basis – although if you are a follower of main stream news exclusively you may not be aware of such crimes. Plays like this are incredibly important not simply as a protest against homophobia but also as a message to those who perhaps feel that this is non issue and to those that have become complacent in their activism for change. Sadly, the fight is far from over for social and cultural equality. I am so glad it is going to Edinburgh.
Delme Thomas is sensational in his storytelling. He paints a beautifully colourful picture of the mundane minutiae of Lee’s love life. You can see the characters he described moving on the stage in front. He handles the transition of beloved bliss to ruination with sheer grace – this is the best male solo performance I’ve seen this year.
It is no secret that I am a fan of Kate Wasserberg, and yet again she has shown her skill in directing the monologue form. There is a rhythm to performance that draws on all the disparate elements, the acting, Benjamin Talbott & Tic Ashfield’s sound-scape, and Zakk Hein’s stunning lighting design, to create an atmosphere that keeps you on edge and engaged throughout.
I haven’t been as affected by a production in a very long time. Excellent.