Writer: Bob Kingdom
Director: Anthony Hopkins
In Bob Kingdom’s one man show Dylan Thomas: Return Journey, the spirit of that hard-drinking, hard-line poet seems to have floated back to haunt us. Originally directed by Anthony Hopkins, this critically acclaimed production, performed on and off for over twenty years now, returns to Bristol after sell-out seasons Off-Broadway and in the West End.
The set-up is simple enough: one podium, one chair, and one man. Thomas’ last lecture tour, comprising observation, anecdote and poetry, is brought to life with all its attendant wit and wisdom. Kingdom’s incarnation and incantation is eerily accurate, especially that voice, that lilting baritone, which varies in register from the personal and confidential to the public and declamatory. His anecdotes rove and ramble around the highways and byways of Welsh life, and bring into vivid focus the eccentricities of the characters he grew up with.
We hear, for example; about an epic pub crawl he attends (soberly) as a child, as a handful of ageing men hop on and off a charabanc at every tavern in the locale, as well as about his ‘steaming hulk’ of an uncle and his tiny aunt, who sets traps for mice while avoiding getting trapped in them herself. We hear, also, of his calamitous no-show, by way of a drunken car accident, as guest speaker of an event organised by the British Medical Association. “They should have gone private and invited John Betjman!” he observes. There is also an encounter with a little girl who claims to carry poetry around in her head: “I drink the rain, I eat the wind.” Dylan Thomas smoulders enviously. “Beginners luck!” he explains.
There are further pleasing one-liners. “Poor me, poor me, pour me another,” neatly encapsulates the twin evils of misery and drink in his life, while an apocryphal riposte in a pub (“I am writing a play,” says one man. “Neither am I,” responds Dylan Thomas), while a joke, may prompt us to question what further works he may have created had he worked harder than he drank.
He calls himself the ‘Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive’ and there is no doubting the doomed romanticism of his language and life. In 1934 he wrote: “I am tortured today by every doubt and misgiving that an hereditarily twisted imagination, an hereditary thirst and a commercial quenching, a craving for a body not my own, a chequered education and too much egocentric poetry, and a wild, wet day in a tided town, are capable of conjuring up out of their helly deeps.”
We are also treated to renditions of ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, and ‘And death shall have no dominion’. Shifts in posture and lighting are subtly done and remove the danger of the performance becoming too static. One might get drunk off his words, but surely not as drunk at the man himself would be if he’d been in the audience. As Kingdom departs the stage one can’t help but feel a great sadness. His presence fills the room with joy and life, but his absence drains it completely.
Runs until 8 June 2017 | Image: Contributed