Saturday Night Forever
Aberystwyth Arts Centre / Joio
Chapter Arts Centre
It is rare for a modern Welsh play to receive a repeat production. Saturday Night Forever, though, is now on its third outing since 1998, a run which took it to the Edinburgh Fringe. I first saw it in 2001 when it toured Wales as a Sherman Theatre presentation.
Now, at the end of another extensive trek around the principality, co-produced by the author’s own company, the hour-long monologue arrives back at its initial venue.
Roger Williams was the first playwright to focus on the lives of young gay people in Wales, with his earlier work Gulp. Saturday Night Forever is more darkly toned, having at its heart an extremely unfortunate incident.
Having seen a number of one-person plays over the past few years, it is clear that the most successful examples have strong story-telling at their heart rather than self-indulgent musing. Here, the narrative is straightforward: a burgeoning romance ends violently.
This is the tale of Lee, who begins by describing the nature of his relationship with stereotypically hedonistic disco queen Matthew and the inevitable break-up.
After a period of mourning, he reluctantly accepts a party invitation and meets the newly out Carl, with whom he has more in common. I seem to recall references to a shared love of guitar bands in the previous production, which are now absent; Williams has updated other popular-culture references, however: Little Mix, Facebook likes, Grindr, etc.
After a tentative start, the relationship develops. A night out on their six-month anniversary, however, ends with the couple’s involvement in a horrific hate crime.
Delme Thomas gives a charming and supremely confident performance as everyman Lee, alternately insecure and confident in his skin. This is illustrated perfectly during a re-created moment of karaoke; his assurance grows as we see that he is strengthened by love. Thus, subsequent events seem all the more brutally tragic.
Williams’s writing is lively, witty and authentic. Director Kate Wasserberg plays cleverly with the shifting tones within the text, supported by designer Zakk Hein. His ingenious set comprises five arrays of flickering strip-lights, illuminated and manoeuvred (with the deft assistance of the stage crew) to reflect disparate moods and locations.
The sound design, by Benjamin Talbott and Tic Ashfield, is also an essential element: a subtly sympathetic underscore, which shifts seamlessly into “disco” and “Take That” modes when required.
Saturday Night Forever continues to resonate because, despite its horribly ever-relevant “issues” element, it is, at heart, a story about love and the healing power of friendship. This powerful, sensitive production richly deserves to be more widely seen.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith