Theatre – Under Milk Wood
Venue: Genesian Theatre
Written By: Dylan Thomas
Directed By: Ylaria Rogers
The frequently performed Under Milk Wood described by its author as “a play for voices” was originally intended to be a radio play. It is, perhaps, better heard than seen but its enchanting mix of poetry, poignancy and sly comedy makes it an attractive choice for small theatres. Overall, Ylaria’s Rogers’s production is well balanced allowing the sly jokes and sexual innuendo to have their place but at the same time keeping a sense of the strange wonder at the universal ironies of human existence.
Dylan’s melodic and teasing wordscape, dreamily evoking the secret life of a small Welsh fishing village between dawn and dusk, presents the director with several problems. The first is the large cast of village characters whose desires and frustrations are woven into a colourful tapestry of life past and passing, the second is the lack of plot, and the third and most important is the challenge of translating what is essentially a reverie, an internal life, into the objective reality of a small confined stage.
On all points, the director (Ylaria Rogers) and her assistant (Michael Heming) have made thoughtful choices, effectively put into practice by the production team and creative crew. A small ensemble of actors (Turea Blyth. Brooke Burns, Sandra Campbell, Casper Hardaker, Courtney Hough, Tiffany Hoy, Marty O’Neill, Martin Searles and Tim Quaife) play all of the 50 or more characters in this performance, and seamlessly manage their entries and exits, their distinctiveness conveyed through clever costuming (Pheonuh Callan, Susan Carveth) and supported by an imaginative setting (Martin Searles, Liam O’Keefe) allowing flexibility in use of a confined stage space. The constant movement of characters from throwing open an upstairs window to crisscrossing Coronation Street to sudden emergence from a box, visually engages the audience and lifts energy levels.
This physical motion reflects the inward activity of the villagers who are almost always in a state of inner tension. While a little uncomfortable the docile Mr Pugh’s fantasies about murdering his overbearing wife, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard’s acidic catechising of her two dead husbands and the moralising doggerel of the poetry-loving Reverend Eli Jenkins are very funny. By contrast, Polly Garter’s haunting song for her lost love and Myfanwy Price’s obedient acceptance of her lonely “hot water bottled body” are almost unbearably sad. Presiding over all, the blind Captain Cat, afloat on the unconscious, dreams of Rosie Probert and all his shipmates, sighing for “all his dead dears” but at the same time tied firmly into the daily daylight life of the village.
As the audience wait for the performance to begin they are lured into a trance-like state by the magic of the stage setting. Suspended glass buoys dimly illuminate a smoky blue world, dreamlike gnarled shapes (later revealed as artfully coiled cord) hover in the background and they are well prepared “to hear the invisible star-fall, the darkest beforedawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea …”