Dic Edwards is a prolific dramatist, author and poet, having written over twenty plays.
Edwards was born and bred in Cardiff. After leaving school, he studied at St David’s University College, Lampeter, and then University College Wales, Aberystwyth. His first literary success came early; in 1974 he contributed a poem ‘Dead leaves’ to a BBC Radio Four programme, Wales, where is your culture?
Edwards is a political writer; his work comes from an anglophone, urban Welsh working-class culture. Often his plays are about those he describes as ‘the evicted.’ His term ‘theatre for the evicted’ grows out of profound feelings of rejection – the British state’s rejection of the working classes and, more controversially, the Welsh cultural elite’s rejection of the English-speaking majority.
Edwards writes drama exclusively for the stage, rather than for cinema or television. He argues that film tells its stories with pictures and that the audience will only see what the director wants it to see. In contrast, theatre tells its stories with words. The most important person is the playwright; he or she should write the play in such a way that it is up to the audience to decide its issues. Edwards has written that, ‘Theatre is the only place where you can tell the necessary story of our social lives in a way which actively and creatively and morally engages the audience and their intelligence …’
His first drama, a one-act play, Late City Echo (1981), concerned the fireman’s strike. His fourth play Looking for the World (1986) was set in Greece during the Colonels’ junta, demonstrating his increasing emphasis on global politics. His early plays, such as these, were originally performed by the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.
In Wittgenstein’s daughter (1993), the title character, Alma, leaves her French fascist husband and tries to discover her supposed roots in Cambridge. She is visited there by the ghost of the philosopher Wittgenstein who, worried about his posthumous reputation, tries to persuade her that she really is his daughter. The play is partly about our relationship with history – Alma’s endeavour to reclaim her past and Wittgenstein’s attempt to change his.
Much of Edwards’ work has been controversial. His play Utah Blue, (first performed by Made in Wales Stage Company in 1995), examines the notorious story of the double murderer, Gary Gilmore. After being found guilty of murder, Gilmore fought for the right to be executed by firing squad, rather than serving life imprisonment. The play is split into two halves; the first part deals with events in the past and then with incidents just prior to Gilmore’s death. In the second half, Edwards deals with the aftermath of the execution. Gary’s brother Mikal, the new central character, is closely observed by Gary’s body. Writing in The Independent, Sarah Hemming described it as a brooding, provocative play and a dark, challenging piece.
In Over Milk Wood, Edwards shows Dylan Thomas’ character, Huw Pugh, trying to escape the associations of the famous radio play. Thomas writes of Pugh’s plots to murder his wife; therefore Pugh is forced to flee after the play’s first transmission. The audience follows him on a voyage of self-discovery to the United States. He meets an Irish woman, Sinead, who is tired of her homeland ‘choking on its past’; she tries to help him overcome his persistent nostalgia. Over Milk Wood has been translated into Catalan as Sobre El Bosc Lacti.
Franco’s Bastard (2002) was only the third play Edwards had set in Wales. It was partly inspired by events during his time as a student in Lampeter. Whilst there, he met Julian Cayo-Evans, the son of the former professor of mathematics but also the founder of the Free Wales Army, a paramilitary Welsh nationalist organisation. (Indeed Cayo-Evans and one of his supporters actually attacked Edwards with a bottle and hammer; Edwards’ jaw was broken and he was hospitalized for a week!) Although Franco’s Bastard is not biographical, the central character, Carlo, is the leader of a small nationalist group in a rural environment. Edwards has commented, ‘It’s not about Cayo, but he was the only person like that I ever knew so he was the perfect role model.’ Through its four characters, the play portrays a whole spectrum of nationalisms and motivations for nationalism. Two young Cardiff locals, Ben and Serena, travel separately to West Wales. They are soon caught up in Carlo’s world, which seems to promise them ‘a life of peace and wisdom,’ a ‘life of culture and heroism.’ However, Edwards regards nationalism as a spectrum of negative forces, which will deceive all who are involved in them. Franco’s Bastard provoked strong reactions; on the opening night, Cayo-Evan’s friend, Gethin ap Iestyn, leapt onto the stage to protest. At another performance, three people scattered stink bombs and then walked out!
His other plays are numerous. They include Long to rain over us (1987) and Low People (1989), performed at Leicester Haymarket; Casanova Undone (1992) performed at Glasgow Citizens Theatre and The White Bear, London; Astrakhan (2005) performed by Cambridge ADC at the Edinburgh Festival, and The Pimp (2006) performed at the White Bear London and Origen Theatre, New York.
Edwards has also written librettos for operas. For instance, he was commissioned to write The Beggar’s New Clothes, a reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. Writing in The Independent, Maycock described it as ‘that rare thing, political theatre that can make you laugh whatever side you are on.’ Edwards also wrote the libretto for Keith Burstein’s highly controversial Manifest Destiny, featuring a Palestinian woman tempted to become a suicide bomber.
Edwards firmly believes that education empowers people. He has regularly worked with Theatre in Education Companies, particularly Spectacle Theatre, based in Porth. He was also founder of Creative Writing at UWTSD.
Edwards, Dic. In Birch, D. (Ed.), (2009). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 1 July 2020, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780192806871.001.0001/acref-9780192806871-e-8648.
Dic Edwards. (2005). In: H.W. Davies (ed.) Now you’re talking: contemporary Welsh dramatists in conversation with Hazel Walford Davies. Cardigan: Parthian
Edwards, D. & Betts, T. (2002) Introduction. In: Edwards, D. Franco’s bastard; Lola Brecht. London: Oberon Books
von Rothkirch und Pathen, A.V. (2003). The place of Wales: staging place in contemporary Welsh drama in English. (Doctoral thesis, Swansea University, United Kingdom). Retrieved from https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa42349
Hanks, R. (1994, February 9). Theatre / The London fringe: best left unsaid. The Independent. Retrieved from https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/131FE8C1CEE0B358?p=UKNB
Hemming, S. (1995, March 1). Get me to the church before the curtain gets up – new stages: Wales Cardiff theatre companies are rushing to get to church – well, a church turned arts venue, the result of creative vision and business sense. The Independent. Retrieved from https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/131FED47EC981788?p=UKNB
Dube, S. (2002, May 6). Fury continues over Cayo play. Western Mail. Retrieved from https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0F360209B164BED5?p=UKNB
Maycock, R. (1993, August 25). Dressed up for a classic rollicking tale: Beggar’s New Clothes – Broomhill. The Independent. Retrieved from https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/131FABEEE1CC30F0?p=UKNB