Chapter, Cardiff, Thurs 5 Apr 2007, 8pm, £3 on the door
Carlo- Michael Kelligan
Serena/Ruby – Laura Carli Hughes
Ben – Richard Shackley
Sion- Alex Harries
DIC Edwards’s savagely satirical attack on nationalism may be one the best-known plays of the century so far – it aroused almost as much outrage as did Caradoc Evans’s Taffy almost a century before – but it still lacks a good production. Sgript Cymru’s version in 2002 wasn’t and Mike Kelligan’s script-in-hand version as part of his On The Edge season certainly isn’t either. But although the play has not been well served to date the strengths still come through here – even when the lead had to be taken over at the last minute by the director following an illness in the cast.
Based on the implausible hero of the Free Wales Army, Julian Cayo Evans, Carlo Francisco Franco Lloyd Hughes is a mix of bravado, fantasy, frightening racism, sexism, erudition and plain loopiness. Whether it’s deliberate or just through having the role thrust upon him, Kelligan makes him seem a whimsical daydreamer rather than a figure of fun, much less the saviour of Wales, albeit one made more scary by his utter lack of intelligence. The whole nationalism project gets a general rubbishing by Edwards, with its leader here not only a fascist but the imagined illegitimate son of a fascist. Edwards is the sort of master of language that his hero would like to have been and his witty mixture of contempt and ridicule is coruscating.
One thing a rehearsed reading like this can do is simplify the narrative and, indeed, stripped of a set and any real characterisation, the play is revealed as very funny and surreal – the conscription of a mindless Cardiff lad to the liberation project on the basis that he’s on the run in West Wales after having allegedly killed his boss with a frozen fish. His short-lived sponsor is a dim-witted hardliner who can spend ages debating the colour of Welsh blood and whose devotion to Carlo has more than a hint of repressed homosexuality – his only vaguely sane colleague is a mixed-race holiday-job barmaid who may well, it transpires, be not only Carlo’s new mistress but his daughter. You’ll see the weaknesses of the script – yes, it’s intentionally ridiculous but also unnecessarily conventional in the introduction of a love interest and bizarrely unlikely in the girl’s attraction to Carlo and the flashback that suggests he begat her during a racist rape.
I suspect that a full production could exploit the absurdity and the politics. Kelligan has previously served Dic Edwards well, with a visceral production of Utah Blue, but Franco’s Bastard has eluded him as it did Simon Harris.
David Adams (Western Mail)