What better way to celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth by bringing the poet’s best known work to the Liverpool stage? This production comes courtesy of friends of the Playhouse, Theatr Clwyd, and is directed by Terry Hands, founder and honorary director of the Everyman. Stepping into the shoes of Richard Burton as First Voice is Owen Teale, recognisable to many these days as one of the bosses of the Black Watch, Ser Alliser Thorne, on Game of Thrones.
That is already a lot to recommend it; and Under Milk Wood makes a delightful stage play thanks in the main to the lively ensemble, who each take on several roles as different members of the community of a small Welsh fishing village, as the poem describes a day in their lives. This is where a prior appreciation of Dylan’s poem comes in handy – it’s a busy picture he paints for an Under Milk Wood virgin like MADEUP; however, the more knowledgeable contingent of the audience seemed delighted with the production, coaxing the cast back for an extra curtain call.
Martyn Bainbridge’s beautiful set will surely receive ample praise from critics, and with good reason. A circular stage piece and back drop – to trace the movement of the sun and to represent the world as it turns, possibly? – the houses of the village skillfully in relief above the heads of the performers to give a cosy impression of a sleepy little community.
Under Milk Wood begins as the inhabitants are in bed and in the thrall of their dreams – some wish fulfilment, others more comically surreal. It then follows the day through (with an interval some time after midday) until it is time to sleep again. Among the village folk, highlights included Richard Elfyn’s under-the-thumb Mr Pugh, constantly fantasising about bumping off his miserable wife; Caryl Morgan’s pretentious Gwennie, trying to kiss the boys or make them cough up a penny; and Hedydd Dylan’s sorrowful Polly Garter and her songs for her lost love. Also in fine voice is Kai Owen as affable drunk Cherry Owen, and Steven Meo’s string of loveable village idiots provides plenty of comic relief.
A fine production, performed and presented with reverence and affection.