A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES and other memories of childhood

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

28/11/2015 - 20/12/2015

Production Details

One of the most magical Christmas stories ever  


Well known to Circa audiences, not only for A Christmas Carol which enjoyed a return season but also All the World’s a Stage, celebrated NZ actor Ray Henwood is thrilled to present this delightful Christmas story by Dylan Thomas. It is rounded out by other memories of childhood, first presented by Dylan Thomas on the BBC.

Every Christmas there is a tradition in the Henwood family that Ray reads to them A Child’s Christmas in Wales. What began as a nostalgic moment soon became part of the Henwood celebration of that special family day. There was no getting out of it and of course it is always a delight for him to do it, he says.

The Swansea Ray grew up in was one Dylan described in his later writings. As a child Ray lived through the blitz which over three nights in 1941 destroyed the centre of the town completely.

The Grammar school which he went to, Dylan himself attended some twenty years before, was hit badly and only half of the Gothic structure remained. Enough however to recognise the places he described in his writings growing up in a town he so carefully wrote about in poems and particularly in his radio play “Return Journey”, brings him so many memories of that “ugly, lovely town”.

While Dylan lived in more salubrious surroundings, Ray was a “Sandfields” boy referred to by Dylan – and played in many of the areas described in the stories. Dylan’s work will show that family celebrations have changed little over the years.

Affectionate and poetic, A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, is a sweet homage to bygone days and those Christmas memories that linger through the years. A true celebration of our experiences growing up and the perfect pre-Christmas theatre treat.

The Critics say “Ray Henwood has the charm and enthusiasm to hold the audience in delight”

Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sunday 4.30pm
After-show Q & A Tuesday 1st December
Ticket Prices: Adults $46 | Friends of Circa $33 (to 13th December) |
Seniors/Groups (6+) $38 | Under 25’s $25
Bookings: Circa 801 7992
or www.circa.co.nz  

Pre-show dinner available at Encore Reservations 801 7996 www.encore@circa.co.nz

Theatre , Spoken word , Solo ,

A delightful Christmas tale

Review by Ewen Coleman 02nd Dec 2015

Having grown up and lived as a boy in the same town as the famous Welsh writer Dylan Thomas, well-known Wellington actor Ray Henwood is ideally suited to relating stories that Thomas wrote.

As a writer Thomas was prolific, with the descriptions of his childhood and the people that populated his world as a boy some of his most eloquent and poetic writings.

It is three of these that Henwood brings to the stage in his delightful rendition, which he has titled A Child’s Christmas in Wales and other memories of childhood, currently playing in the Circa Studio. [More]  


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The enduring pleasure of being read to

Review by John Smythe 30th Nov 2015

Ray Henwood was four years old when the German Luftwaffe blitzed his hometown, Swansea, over three horrendous nights (because it produced coal and iron ore). Dylan Thomas – also born in Uplands, Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales – was 27, a prolific and well-published poet, an alcoholic, living in London, married and a father.

Four years later (in 1943), having studied town maps to ensure his recall of streets and buildings was accurate, Thomas recorded a talk for the BBC about his childhood in Swansea. He’d originally called it ‘Nostalgia for an Ugly Town’ but it went to air as ‘Reminiscences of Childhood’. He recorded a new version a couple of years later then again in 1953 (eight months before he died). ‘Memories of Christmas’ was recorded in 1945 then blended with ‘Conversation about Christmas’ to become A Child’s Christmas in Wales. And in 1946 Thomas’s ‘Holiday Memory’ was broadcast.

Having established a tradition of reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales to his New Zealand family at Christmas, Ray Henwood has happily – for us – chosen to share it with a wider audience, adding the other childhood reminiscence/memory stories, and a more adult perspective with a snippet from ‘Return Journey’ (1947), as the ‘first half’ of his 90 minute (including interval) programme.

There is a universality in childhood, especially pre TV and i-technology, that ensures most will relate to some elements of these stories. Younger audience members may be fascinated by how it was for their parents and grandparents. Of course the opposing seasons add a familiar exoticness, especially with the white Christmas. 

Henwood mixes conversational chats with readings from the actual texts and often goes ‘off book’ to claim the space and ‘enact’ bits of the stories. It’s not exactly a ‘dramatisation’ but his spritely, if rather literal, physicalisations do vary the visual aspect without intruding too much on our imaginations. What works best is the lyrical language and Henwood’s mellifluous delivery of the prose-poem texts.

Saturday afternoons with brass bands and Punch and Judy; Sunday afternoons on the promenade after Chapel, family picnics in August … The innocence of childhood is captured in the boy’s bemusement at “the country called the Front, from which many of our neighbours never came back.” Forming secret societies and playing pranks on adults is what keeps Thomas and his mates active during the days.

His recollection of Cwmdonkin Park exemplifies his boyish view: “That small world widened as I learned its secrets and boundaries, as I discovered new refuges and ambushes in its woods and jungles, hidden homes and lairs for the multitudes of imagination, for cowboys and Indians and the tall, terrible half-people who rode on nightmares through my bedroom. We knew every regular visitor, every nursemaid, every gardener, every old man…”

It has to be said these pieces lack the pungently poignant descriptions of people that pepper his most celebrated work, Under Milk Wood– a Play for Voices, which he had begun to write when he recorded these talks (he worked on it for nearly ten years, completing it within a month of his death in 1953, aged 39).

Henwood ends his first half with a few short scenes from Return Journey, where the narrator goes into a pub in search of “the Thomas boy”, and hears him described in less that flattering terms. Thomas’s existential quest for himself brings him to the park, where the keeper pronounces the ultimate sentence.

John Hodgkins’ evocation of “A parlour in Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea” (misspelt as ‘Cwdonkin’ in the programme) is suitably adorned with Christmas decorations for A Child’s Christmas in Wales. A fire flickers convincingly in the authentic cast iron fireplace (lighting design and operation: Deb McGuire).

There is more energy and greater cohesion in this half, where “All the Christmases roll down the hill towards the Welsh-speaking sea” as Thomas’s paragraph-long, long-listing sentences dance and delight in their adjectival richness – not to mention his verbs. Who else would have a boy “slapdashing home”?

There is drama as well as humour in the recollection of Mrs Prothero and the three tall firemen. Thomas is also the master of litotes and Henwood delivers them (can an understatement be called a punchline?) to perfection.  

This is no Dickensian household where an orange in the stocking is to be treasured: Thomas scores a considerable haul unless we assume he is enumerating the contents of many Christmas stockings. There are lazy uncles with lame jokes, busy aunties partial to a drop or more, postprandial games with the mates in the snow, carol singing …

Comparison with Bruce Mason’s ‘Christmas at Te Parenga’ (from The End of the Golden Weather) is inevitable. Because Mason works it into his overall ‘loss of innocence’ theme, his self-critiquing recollection is more purposeful, and his transition from anger at his brother to empathy with him brings it to a more satisfying conclusion. Perhaps the more valid comparison would be with the radio talks Mason recorded about his childhood, which gave him a starting point for developing The End of the Golden Weather.

What A Child’s Christmas in Wales and other memories of childhood offers, apart from the sharing of childhood experiences, is the enduring pleasure of being read to, and few can do it as well as Ray Henwood.


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