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Friday 28 March 2014

Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Grand Theatre, Swansea, Wales, 10* out of 10

The uninitiated among the non-British readers of this blog may think that the footballer Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) and the acting legends Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins are “from England”. You would however, be wrong. They are all as Welsh as Swansea. We non-Brits often forget that there are three countries the main island of Great Britain: From North to West-Southwest: Scotland, England and Wales.

The greatest Welsh poet and writer in the English language is Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1952).  As this year is the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Clwyd Theatr Cymru, decided to tackle his poetic, comic “play for voices” Under Milk Wood, which Dylan had completed and premiered in Manhattan shortly before his death in 1952. This new production is directed by Terry Hands. 

Under Milk Wood acquaints us with the dreams and lives of the inhabitants of the fictional, though perhaps not totally untypical Welsh fishing village of Llareggub. Although the name sounds authentically Welsh is the anagram of the rather rude English expression “bugger all”. We follow the Llareggubians from nightfall to nightfall over a 24 hour period and are helped by two all-knowing narrators giving us access to all aspects of the villagers' inner, home and social lives.

This production brings Dylan Thomas masterpiece to life in multiple layers. You could close your eyes, forget the meaning of the words as they flow from the mouths of the actors to your ear, listening only to their tonality; a symphony of sound unfolds which all by itself conjures up the rough, green and rocky coastal village landscape of Llareggub and its curious inhabitants. In another layer, phrases and sentences express, in turn, joy, laughter and melancholic desire in a firework of alliterative reinforcements and juxtapositions. 

This production adds the direction and acting, which furnish each character with the body language perfectly matched to voice and interaction. Martyn Bainbridge's simple but imaginative set, colourful and spiralling, gives the play a sense of place.  

Under Milk Wood is performed here by an excellent acting ensemble made up of strong characters on and probably off stage as well. The cast brings Dylan Thomas’ iconic village to life, both in their personal eccentricities and in the full range of their interactions.  The actors clearly are enjoying themselves on stage and that enjoyment communicated itself to a Swansea-audience delighted and proud of their national poet's work being presented by an excellent Welsh theatre company. Owen Teale and Chris Patterson as first and second voice, respectively, stand out. Polly Garter’s (Katie Elin-Salt) pitch perfect a-cappella singing is breath taking.

This production of Under Milk Wood tours Britain from now until summer the summer. The dates can be found by clicking on the link shown below. It’s more than worth the trip. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!

Sunday 9 March 2014

Good People, Play by David Lindsay-Abaire, starring Imelda Staunton, Hampstead Theatre, London 7* out of 10

In rough, Irish working-class South Boston, Margie (Imelda Staunton), middle-aged mother of a grown-up handicapped daughter is again about to lose her job as a cashier in a supermarket.  She knows that her friend, sometime child-sitter and landlady Dottie (June Watson) will not remain friendly to her if the rent-money stops coming in. Her other friend and bingo-playing companion Jean (Lorraine Ashbourne) suggests she get in touch with an old boy-friend Mikey (Lloyd Owen), who has escaped life in South Boston and is a successful specialist physician with his own practice. When Margie and Mikey meet again, the tension between their common past and uncommon present gives rise to some uncomfortable confrontations.

After a slow first act, David Lindsay-Abaire’s play picks up pace and quality in the second. It does however not get as far as to question cherished liberal tenets on the inherent “good people”-hood of the working classes; not that the good people of Hampstead including your reviewer, who filled the seats of their local theatre, would mind too much. Director Jonathan Kent delivers an entertaining and professional quality production to West End standards. Imelda Staunton is excellent as always, leading a good cast. Angel Colby gives an excellent performance as Mikey’s wife Kate. Hildegard Bechtler’s set moves faultlessly between South Boston, the city centre and its wealthy suburbs.  A worthwhile, entertaining and not too challenging evening at the theatre.