Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Shining Talent in Play’s Third Outing

Saturday Night Forever

Aberystwyth Arts Centre/ Joio , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , November 17, 2015
Saturday Night Forever by Aberystwyth Arts Centre/ Joio Aberystwyth’s revival of Roger Williams’ “Saturday Night Forever” is the play’s third production since its first showing in 1998, in Wales and at Edinburgh. Three years later its director Steve Fisher had moved to the Sherman and it was produced and toured a second time. That rewritten script was published, by Parthian, in a compendium of solo shows alongside work by Ian Rowlands and Mark Jenkins.

Rewritings decades apart have occurred, albeit not often, in theatre’s history. “Pygmalion”, the most celebrated, has two versions that are very different. With “Saturday Night Forever” the task for the author turned out to be larger than anticipated. Henry Cavill is now a name of reference as well as Bruce Banner. But the task came to be more than the replacement of cultural references with current terms with which a new audience of 2015 would be familiar. This “greater undertaking than I’d at first imagined ”, as Roger Williams writes in his programme note, came about for a reason. The world has shifted and in two ways.

The new text is sewn lightly with references to social media. Extrovert Matthew’s Saturday night cannot begin, in the telling of narrator Lee, without checking the latest statuses and updates. With the awkwardness of introduction now facilitated on a digital platform the play incorporates an entire new scene. Delme Thomas’ Lee has already been shaded as the character ill-at-ease on the fringe of the speed-and-drink-fuelled Saturday night revels. “I struggled to find a familiar face” he says “someone I could latch onto.” In a scene undreamt-of in 1998 Lee points his camera-phone at the bathroom mirror. There is still anxiety over the image he wants to project. His final choice prompts a range of responses that he recites with glee.

The theme of “Saturday Night Forever” is unchanged. Love unfulfilled, found and destroyed is the same but within a script where amendment and modernisation fit seamlessly. The context of the play within the theatre of Wales has changed in that it is post-“Lwyth” but thematically it is not so far apart. Over the decades the gay-themed play has changed but also has maintained constancy. The authenticity of love is the theme of “What’s Wrong with Angry?”, the best-known play of the nineties. Theatre’s classic of the pre-AZT era called itself “the Normal Heart” and ended with a celebration of fidelity.

The best moment in “Saturday Night Forever” is when Delme Thomas puts on a smile of memory at life’s high. Joy is the most elusive of emotions to act; it is a quality that is immanent and not an action. If Roger Williams’ play fits an arc of drama’s history it is that Lee, before calamity hits, can begin to talk of a future of dog, mortgage and legally acknowledged partnership. The play contains a fascinating dualism. Every point in a life is vital at its moment but a seasoned television writer cannot re-become that same self of two decades back. The word “responsibility” occurs twice in the author’s notes. In 1998 “I’d done my best to avoid responsibility”; in 2015 all has changed. Responsibility can be seen as the axis either side of Lee. From his past he is shedding Patrick, the extrovert dressy party animal bizarrely still dining on fish fingers. In his place is Carl, the teacher from Penarth. The first bond with Lee is made, truthfully, in enlivened and variegated conversation.

Of course only the dullest, most pedantic of souls ever went to theatre for textual or sociological analysis. “Saturday Night Forever” is the first professional appearance on a Wales stage for Llanelli’s Delme Thomas. London offers the work. That is the truth; the great metro-goliath is even building three or four new theatres. His performance is from the outset one of utter assurance. The script is artfully structured, its line of narrative covering a span of emotion. It is an intimate production, a character in sharing confidence with his audience. Delme Thomas has the quality of the art that matters above all. He is at ease.

Some of theatre’s most acute observers are the people who are the least-noticed. The ushers see the lot and those at Aberystwyth are long-serving. “Did you hear the audience?” one asked me on our exit. “Hear what?” I wondered. “There was nothing to hear- not a breath, not a shuffle, not a cough ”. Not strictly true, there are laughs to be had, but she was right. The attention at this preview night was total.

Zakk Hein is both designer and lighting designer, the merging of roles highly appropriate. Apart from suggesting the glitter of a city at leisure his mobile five panels shrink the Aberystwyth’s stage space to fit a solo performer. The panels are moved at intervals to reframe the space; the number of times of their repositioning could probably be reduced for the production’s benefit. The subtle sound design is by Benjamin Talbott and Tic Ashfield. Kate Wasserberg is director. As in her previous production for solo actor, Matthew Bulgo’s “Last Christmas”, the directorial role is simply conceived. It is be in the service of the company, thereafter in the eyes of the audience to be immanent but unshowy.

“Saturday Night Forever” returns to Aberystwyth 4th/ 5th December and tours the Curve Leicester, the Torch, Ffwrnes, Park & Dare, Theatr Hafren, Swansea Grand, Theatr Clwyd and Chapter until 12th December.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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