Writer: Dylan Thomas
Director: Terry Hands
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Eat bread and cheese for a week, walk to work, pawn your watch – do whatever it takes, but buy a ticket for Under Milk Wood. Terry Hands’ production for Clwyd Theatr Cymru of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood brings out every nuance of this play for a voices with a cast of just 13 playing no less than thirty six parts. Under Milk Wood is in a class of its own – a work of genius, rich in language, character and humour with glimpses of the darkness beneath in the eccentric characters who inhabit the small Welsh seaside town of Llareggub. Even their names are sublime – Polly Garter, the tart with a heart, Willy Nilly, Nogood Boyo, to name but a few.
Written originally for radio, Thomas’ masterpiece was given its first full professional stage production at the Edinburgh International Festival in August 1956. With a cast of nearly thirty, it moved to London a month later – and Hands’ production is also worthy of a transfer to the West End.
This is theatre at its best – pure, unadulterated, joyous celebration of life. But make no mistake – staging such a piece, whether you describe it as poem or play – is a mammoth task, calling for the best in every element. Not only the acting is of the highest calibre, but set and lighting (also designed by Hands) are excellent and contribute much to the overall quality.
An open stage has the same backcloth throughout. Designed in the round by Martyn Bainbridge, its colourful depiction of the little town nestling at the water’s edge, beneath Milk Wood, changes colour as the action moves from night to day. The full cast walks on stage as the play opens, with Owen Teale narrating throughout, ably seconded by Christian Patterson. And what a cast this is! Even Thomas would surely have approved. The actors have not only captured the spirit of the writing, but all of them, without exception, project an understanding of their several widely diverse rôles.
Difficult as it is to single out individual performances, mention must be made of Steven Meo’s Nogood Boyo and Willy Nilly (he has three other persona as well!). Richly raunchy, full of life and vigour, Meo’s Nogood Boyo is very naughty, but nice! As Captain Cat/Mr Waldo, Ifan Huw Dafydd is entrusted with a pivotal rôle that calls for a sympathetic interpretation, which he handles with consummate skill – as one might expect from an award-winning (the BAFTA Cymru Award for Best Actor) actor.
Cast as no less than six of the characters – a formidable task at which any actress might boggle – Sara Harris-Davies rises to the challenge superbly. As Mrs Organ Morgan, she wrings her hands with gusto and waddles across the stage, rear sticking out in formidable style. A complete change of style, her Rosie Probert is equally delightful, as is her Mrs Willy Nilly.
Sophie Melville brings an ethereal quality to her portrayal of Gossamer Beynon, providing contrast with Caryl Morgan’s well-vocalised Mary Ann Sailors and the maid-of-all work Lily Smalls. Morgan adroitly switches into a less strident style with her portrayal of Myfanwy Price. Katie Elin-Salt’s Polly Garter’s earthy portrayal embraces the pathos of the rôle. Polly has had many lovers – but her one true love, Willy Wee, lies dead and buried.
With an all-Welsh cast, it is perhaps not surprising that this production well deserves the accolade of being iconic.
Photo by Catherine Ashmore | Runs until Saturday 15th March 2014