Directed by Wyndham Price
Theatre often reflects cultural conflict within society. Religious conflict however, is less openly addressed. It was an interesting change therefore to see the conflicts of Christianity openly discussed in Carmen Medway-Stephens’ Utah Bride. Adapted to Welsh by the accomplished Sharon Morgan, Stephens’ play explores the relationship between sturdy valleys matriarch Rebecca and her impressionable daughter Alice.
Although it did not seem particularly clear why the era was significant at first, as the play progressed the impact of the recently resigned Thatcher on Welsh valley life becomes more pertinent. By setting the play in the 1990s, the characters are understandably hardened by recent struggles. Rebecca, widowed in her early 60s, is alone. Her son John has moved to Port Talbot for work whilst her twenty year old daughter Alice is living the supposed American Dream in Utah with her Mormon husband. In the dead of night, four years after her escape, Alice returns home to face the resentment of her lonely mother.
As the play progresses many interesting issues arise. At forty five, Rebecca was considered embarrassingly old to raise a daughter. Alice never felt as though she were understood and always felt as if there was something missing. At sixteen, the seeming solution to her need for fulfilment presents itself in the form of a young man who knocks on her door preaching the gospel of the Latter Day Saints. Running away from her Welsh Methodist upbringing, she begins her new life in Utah, barely contacting home and not even returning for the funeral of her father. Accusing her mother of living in fear of what the neighbours might say and being an emotional and sometimes physical punch bag of her late husband, Alice fails to see the irony reflected in her own lifestyle. Running away from the Welsh church to what her mother deems a ‘cult’, she is more entrapped now than she ever was living in her little house in the valleys. She reveals that in four years she has borne three children to her husband, both shocking and upsetting her mother. Rebecca maintains her cool exterior, although her obvious hurt of never having held her grandchildren is apparent. Gwawr Loader keeps an impenetrable front throughout, making her climactic emotional breakdown completely believable and genuinely upsetting. She reverts back to the fragile sixteen year old in need of a mother’s guidance and comfort. Sharon Morgan’s Rebecca is the perfect balance between the same harsh exterior emulated by her daughter and a mother’s impulse to comfort and protect her child. Both give an outstanding performance, touching yet explosive.
The set is basic but the whole production is carried by the loaded script and fantastic performances. There are some unnecessary sound effects which did not do much and mainly distracted from those moments of silence and reflection. The play was a wonderful combination of impressive acting and a well-crafted script. The adaptation into Welsh can only give this performance more depth and will undoubtedly entice a wider audience across Wales.