Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

Utah Blue by Dic Edwards
First presented by Made in Wales

"It strikes you right through the heartI found the play unfussy, unsentimental, unapologetic and questioning in a way that really made me offer up Gary's philosophy - however odd it may be - to the temporal, real questionings of his brother Mikal and Nicol. What we get from the writer is great, expressionistic, bravura strokes"
Kaleidoscope on Radio 4

"The company launched its season with what can olnly be described as a baptism of fire - Dic Edwards' Utah Blue, a brooding, provocative play about the American murderer Gary Gilmore and his bizarre, interior world. It is a challenging piece"
The Independent

"Compelling it made for a provocative and harrowing two hours"
The Stage

"a brutal, emotional, gut wrenching couple of hours."
South Wales Argus

"The powerful imagery leaves you drained, wallowing in Gary Gilmore's hell, not caring what his heaven might hold"
Gair Rhydd

   There are 3 reviews of Made in Wales's Utah Blue in our database:
Utah Blue by Dic Edwards
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Chapter Arts Centre Cardiffq
June 1, 2005
this review first appeared in the Western Mail.

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 it doesn’t.

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.

David Adams
A gripping sense of theatricality
Utah Blue by Dic Edwards
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Sherman Theatre Cardiff
May 1, 2008
Dic Edwards is one of Wales’ leading playwrights, like a number of contemporary Welsh dramatists he is often able to combine a poetic style with a very hard hitting narrative. This account of the life and cruel self-inflicted death of Gary Gilmore also shows us his gripping sense of theatricality. It is one of the many conundrums of Welsh theatre that his work and that of a number of his peers is not more often presented by some of our leading producers.

On the face of it Gilmore, who was thirty seven years old at the time of his execution by firing squad on January 17th 1977 at 8.07 am, was a waster with little thought or care for his fellow men. It would be too easy to say that it was his father’s bullying that sent this promising academic and artistic teenager off the rails in 1954 at the age of fourteen. Now thirty years on and no doubt before, meaningless murders by young people abound. The sadness of this unfathomable fact of human life permeates the magical production by Phillip Mackenzie.

Gilmore spent most of his life in prison, mainly on charges of robbery and assault, yet he was not totally without sensitivity and here in Dean Rehman’s remarkably compelling performance, with his flashing eyes and knowing grin we get pretty near developing an affection and sympathy for this complex character.

His mother, played with a good sense of despairing frustration by Beth House never gave up caring and loving him. We see, for a while, a good sense of brotherly rapport develop with his younger brother Mikal, again a strong and assured performance from John Norton but this eventually collapses into more despair and frustration. There is a strong bond with his girl friend Nicole performed with an alluring sensuous ease by Zoe Davis. She immediately turns her attention to Mikal after Gary’s death but this relationship soon echoes the frustrations of her time with Gary.

To this day capital punishment is still carried out in some states in the USA. A moratorium was introduced from 1967-1977. Gilmore’s execution in Utah was the first to take place once the moratorium was lifted. At the time, Utah had two methods of execution, firing squad or death by hanging, although his sentence had been commuted Gilmore insisted it was carried out and demanded to be shot. It is to the credit of both actor Dean Rehman, all the other members of the cast and director Mackenie that the credibility of all the action in the play is never in doubt.

There is a degree of stylisation to the production that mostly matches the tone of the play. This also included some dance movement at the opening and closing of the play. Whilst the irony of this is clear I still can’t decide whether this embellishment was entirely to my liking.
Michael Kelligan
A striking piece of contemporary theatre.
Utah Blue by Dic Edwards
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Sherman Theatre Cardiff
May 14, 2008
AT last, and it’s taken 13 years, Dic Edwards’ arresting play based on the life and death of Gary Gilmore gets a production that does this dense, provocative drama justice.

In fact Phil Mackenzie’s stripped-down, taut version of a work that can get bogged down by its wordiness is surprisingly just right, the sheer physicality of the piece liberating the text.
It starts and ends with an eerie kind of line-dance to Neil Young, the four characters staring blankly at the audience; in between there are multiple explosions of passion as each of them tries to express their individual cries for freedom from the claustrophobic world of mormon repression.

Gary Gilmore, he of the famous eyes, was the guy who in 1976 fought against being pardoned for murder and embraced the death penalty for his apparently motiveless murders.

A remarkable man, he could refer to philosophers and artists with all the naivete of the amateur intellectual but at the same time with unaffected enthusiasm and understanding. He was obsessive, foul-mouthed, self-justifying, amoral and compassionless – the perfect antihero for a writer like Edwards.

To an extent it’s also the cry of the creative soul confined by society – both Gilmore brothers were artists of different kinds (Mikal still writes for Rolling Stone magazine) as they struggled with their frankly bizarre religious background. Gary (played with a blazing intensity by Dean Rehman) is an outsider, societally speaking, from childhood, and even falling in love with trailer-trash Nicole doesn’t help him conform: he is the quintessential “evicted” personality.

Edwards, one of Wales’ few distinctive playwrights, also writes opera and there is certainly something of the melodramatic tragic inevitability about Utah Blue with its heightened emotions, extreme characterisation, relentless thin narrative and obsessive behaviour – ironically far more so than its original 1995 production for Made in Wales by Michael McCarthy of Music Theatre Wales.

This is all brought out, interestingly, by Mackenzie’s very physical production, with its emphasis on the body and the dispensing of virtually all scenery and props.

So when, for example, Nicole removes her panties and slips them to Gary while he is on death row it is a startling moment which is extended as he continues to play with them after she’s gone, twisting them round as he talks and inadvertently knotting them round his wrists.

In the original, and in Edwards’ script, the physicality is overtly sexual and symbolic and we saw a lot of Nicole, while Gary was represented alive and dead and is clad in a blood-stained body stocking.

With Rhys Meyrick’s simple set of sliding screens, a sharp lighting design by Rachel Mortimer and good performances (Zoe Davies, John Norton and Beth House are the other tormented souls) this is one of those rare Welsh shows that in concept and execution could hold its own on any stage anywhere.

We owe this production, it has to be said, to Rehman and Norton’s involvement in the play’s revival by Michael Kelligan in his On The Edge series of rehearsed readings – Norton went on to form the Give It A Name company and it’s as part of Sherman Cymru Young Artists Development Scheme that Mackenzie has transformed this underrated masterpiece to one striking piece of contemporary theatre.
David Adams

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