Under Milk Wood

Wed 14th – Sat 17th November 2012

reviews

James Bell

at 01:43 on 15th Nov 2012

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Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood has a place in my family’s lore (a dear but now sadly departed relation would quote sections of it when his children were being unruly) so I was eager to see how this week’s ADC late show would tackle this dreamy piece which dramatises the a day in the life of the inhabitants of Llareggub, a tiny Welsh fishing village, living their daily lives, the meaning (or meaninglessness) of which is examined by the unspoken but oppressive context of the Second World War.

The promotional material describes the work as “as play for voices.” Here, I think, was the main problem with the production: Under Milk Wood was originally written for radio, as a kind of prose poem for multiple voices, and so I question what showing us the action on stage really achieves. The staging was stark, with barely any props, the lighting was also basic and so the characters seemed at times to swim around aimlessly in this open expanse. In fact, I came to view the cast as an obstacle to understanding Thomas’ lyricism. There were some good performances; Mog and Myfanwy as well as Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard come to mind, as does Luke Sumner as the camp postman, but mostly the actors seemed desperately unsure of what they were doing. The accents were muddled, the manipulation of props a little slapdash and at times I struggled to understand what they were saying as there was an air of rote recitation and a lack of emotional understanding to the delivery. The narrators, unfortunately, didn’t help to clarify matters. Their lines were delivered in the same reverent, slightly breathy tone, one reminiscent of school productions of Shakespeare. The fact that some lines were stumbled over and several cues misjudged made the whole endeavour seem a little stilted. I really don’t want to be unduly harsh about this show, though. It is a difficult text to tackle, considering it is not entirely meant for the stage, and it must be noted that the direction brought out some successful moments of humour and absurdity and even the occasional twinkle of nostalgia, particularly in the old lady who sagely views all that is going on around her.

In the end, however, I was underwhelmed by this production and left the theatre feeling a little like one of Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard’s dead husbands: chastised, mildly irritated, and a little confused about why I was there in the first place.

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