| The idea behind any so-called rehearsed reading is
to give the playscript prominence – no
set, no costumes, no lighting, no polished performances, just the words delivered
with enough expertise to make the characters live. Sometimes it works, sometimes
The On The Edge season at Chapter, which came to a close with Michael Kelligan’s direction of a controversial ten-year old Dic Edwards classic, usually does work, even if the most memorable events have been re-presentations of familiar work – and Mr Kelligan, whose brainchild this On The Edge project is, was clearly determined to go out (until the next season) with a bang not a whimper.
Utah Blue’s main character is serial criminal Gary Gilmore, the murderer who achieved more notoriety after his death because of his fight to be executed rather than imprisoned, and it was immediately elevated to cult status with its production by Made in Wales at The Point.
But, like so many plays by that wayward wordy genius Dic Edwards, it has never been produced since, and it was remembered by some as simply a difficult play with lots of sex and nudity.
Well, you don’t do nudity in rehearsed readings and, to be honest, the hand-held scripts did rather get in the way in the simulated sex scenes (in a strange play there is still something bizarre about a couple turning folio pages and reading while attempting to copulate), but without the distractions of staging the more explicit moments it is the extraordinary text that we notice here.
And I (and the playwright too) felt this was a far more passionate, committed and rewarding staging of Utah Blue than we got in its full production in 1995 – thanks, perhaps, to a minimal direction and the policy of letting the actors find and deliver the richness, the complexities, the humanity and the challenges in Edwards’s script.
What we got in the small room upstairs at Chapter was an electric experience – shock after shock as ideas come tumbling out, as characters start to make sense then collapse into confusion, as elegant ideas knock against coarse sexuality. Reincarnation, karma, Spinoza, the value of art and the American Dream are debated alongside the sometimes cruel practices and conservative creed of The Mormons, in which Gilmore was reared, and the cynical sexual imperative that decrees that only thing man need know is how to eat pussy.
It is not an easy play to watch and certainly not an easy one to perform, but with relatively little rehearsal Dean Rehman as the central character, Bethan Morgan as his mother, and especially John Norton as kid brother Mikal and Lisa Zara as his lover Nicole, allowed to see the strengths and weaknesses of this abstruse but arresting study of contemporary Western culture.
I still don’t really understand the play but certainly this modestly-mounted production revealed the passions, the weird compulsive philosophy of this complex character, the fascinating playwrighting and the sheer eloquence and relishing of language of this most intriguing of contemporary Welsh playwrights. A good play to end this season.