Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

08/10/2016 - 08/10/2016

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

13/10/2016 - 13/10/2016

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

20/10/2016 - 22/10/2016

Nelson Arts Festival 2016

Dunedin Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

Made famous by Richard Burton’s legendary recording in 1954, Guy Masterson (Burton’s nephew) brings Under Milk Wood to vivid life on stage.

Celebrating a day in the life of ‘Llareggub’ – a small seatown somewhere in Wales – all 69 inhabitants in Dylan Thomas’ timeless masterpiece are hilariously recreated in an amazing feat of memory and virtuosity.

This astonishing solo performance, premièred in 1994, has played more than 2000 times all over the world, enchanting audiences wherever it’s been staged. For one performance only, Under Milk Wood is a stellar Festival offering.

“Guy Masterson is something exceptional!”  BBC Radio Scotland 

Fortune Theatre
Sat 8 Oct 8pm

Nelson Arts Festival 2016
Theatre Royal 
Thu 13 Oct, 7.30pm
110 mins, plus interval

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland
20 Oct – 22 Oct 2016
20 & 21 at 7pm; 22 at 2pm
$19.00 – $44.00
Buy Tickets

Theatre , Solo ,

2 hrs

Celebrating timeless brilliance

Review by Nik Smythe 21st Oct 2016

The black stage lies bare save for a white chair in the spotlight and a glass beer mug downstage centre.  When your script is one as famously evocative as Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood you really don’t need anything else.  The chair is for seated characters and geographical levels, the mug, as much as anything, seems like a tribute to the author, drunken Welsh antihero that he was.

The spotlight fades, then rises again on solo actor Guy Masterson, standing on the chair in light blue pinstripe pyjamas and shades.  He launches straight into the opening, all-embracing lyrical depiction of the sleepy fishing village Llareggub (read it backwards), as its colourful and eccentric inhabitants turn in for the night.  From the first, the inherent musicality of Thomas’s garrulous verse instils a hypnotic, dream-like atmosphere. 

Under the patently able direction of Tony Boncza, Masterson cracks through the first act at pace, channelling multiple characters in brisk succession both vocally and physically with deft mime and gestures.  It’s no mean feat for one middle-aged man to portray allegedly 69 distinct roles of all ages, genders (the two most common ones anyway) and social bearings; his glib delivery and comfortable bedclothes belie the consummate skill required for the task. 

Act II pauses for breath a little more often.  Still liberally laced with humour and song, it delves more deeply into the melancholy side of life in the quiet seaside town, culminating with the poignancy of blind retired seamen Captain Cat’s wistful remembrance of Rosie Probert, his favourite love “in a life sardined with women”.  The 24-hour narrative concludes as Llareggub settles down for the night once more, with a prevailing sense the myriad events of the day will inevitably repeat themselves tomorrow.

In a review earlier this week I described Tennessee Williams’ short works as poetic drama; Under Milk Wood could be comparatively described as dramatic poetry, with generous servings of wry wit, and a dramatis personae to rival Dickens for entertaining nomenclature: Captain Cat, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, Jack Black the cobbler, Polly Garter, Nogood Boyo, Gossamer Beynon, PC Attila of Handcuff House, Organ and Mrs Morgan, Mog Edwards, Myfanwy Price, undertaker Evans ‘the Death’, et al.

Albeit the wordplay being the thing, the visual potential of the limited production resources is well realised, in particular with the compellingly enlarged shadowplay on the back wall. Composer Matt Clifford’s accompanying soundscape further augments the ethereal tone with aplomb.  Orchestral backing and specific instrumentations such as Organ Morgan’s church pipes underpin Masterson’s verbally graphic descriptions, along with other incidental noises, plus the suitably eerie holographic reverb effect on the voices of a number of ghostly beings. 

Guy Masterson has been performing this work on and off for around a couple of decades now.  The fresh energy and natural joy he exudes in the process implies he’ll be happy to continue doing so for as long as people continue to come, which isn’t likely to let up any time soon or later given the timeless brilliance of Thomas’ most celebrated masterwork. 


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Effortless, agile, polished and fresh

Review by Ann C Nighy 14th Oct 2016

“We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood” – surely words which we can relate to as people living in our own city of Nelson.  

Much of the dialogue Dylan Thomas uses, comforts us, so we settle down to enjoy an evening of the happenings in the village of Llareggub, in Wales. 

Tony Boncza directs with style and simplicity. A lone, slatted wooden chair sits spotlighted on the stage as we find our seats. Apart from a pair of dark glasses, this is the only prop and it substitutes for a pushchair, a soap box, a rocking chair, a woman hugging her man.

The lighting is excellent and enhances the production, especially when focused brightly on the character. There is the image, like shadow puppets, on the backdrop curtain. Sound effects, by Matt Clifford, are timely and appropriate although those in the audience who are hard of hearing are disadvantaged, at times, by the level of music which drowns out the dialogue for them.

As a seasoned performer Guy Masterson has skilfully mastered the art of performing sixty nine characters on his own. Apparently effortless and with great agility he switches from one to the next and back again.  Although he has performed this play over two thousand times it is as fresh and polished as though it was his first. 

The play opens at night, when the citizens of Llareggub are asleep, so Masterson is suitably attired in pyjamas. After the interval, morning begins and some of the audience are disappointed that the sole actor has not changed into casual dress. We are introduced to the townsfolk, taken on a journey, learn more about Llareggub.

Masterson draws the audience closer and takes us on an energetic and coquettish romp around the village.  Then night begins and the citizens return to their dreams again. The full house laughs a lot and gives Masterson a standing ovation. A night to remember indeed.


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Everyday reality conjured out of magical fiction

Review by Helen Watson White 10th Oct 2016

To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishing boat-bobbing sea…

Whoever remembers Richard Burton delivering these lines will be grateful to his nephew Guy Masterson for continuing the family tradition.

Under Milk Wood, a “Play for Voices” by fellow-Welshman Dylan Thomas, evokes an everyday reality out of magical fiction. [More


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Capitalises on the gleeful comedy

Review by Kimberley Buchan 09th Oct 2016

The line at the Fortune Theatre goes out the door, down the stairs, along the street and around the corner. Everyone is eagerly waiting to see Under Milkwood performed by Guy Masterson. They are not disappointed.

Under Milkwood is a classic. Written by poet Dylan Thomas, it is replete with alliteration, similes and perfectly chosen verbs. It is not just the beautiful language that makes Under Milkwood memorable, it is also the truly wonderful characters. The play covers a day in the life of a small Welsh village called Llareggub: Dylan Thomas showing his attitude towards his fictional village by naming it bugger all backwards.

We start by entering the dreams of the inhabitants of the village, and immediately gain intimate knowledge of their fears and desires. As the day progresses we see little snapshots of the sixty nine mainly eccentric characters as their lives criss-cross over each other’s, as they laugh and cry and dance and gossip through the day.

Popular characters include Mr Beynon the butcher going after the corgis, the adorable relationship between the Cherry Owens, Mr Pugh’s murderous fantasies, Mrs Organ Morgan eating and gossiping as a pelican and the little girls skipping rope sequence. 

Masterson takes on the phenomenal challenge of playing an entire village by himself with ease. Of course, it does help that he has performed this show since 1994. A truly staggering two thousand times. If you are wondering, there is no apparent evidence in the performance of his being bored with the script after so long. He allows the performance to flow along with the rhythm of the words and changes character so fast he barely seems to take a breath. He capitalises on the comedy in Dylan Thomas’ gleeful sense of humour. 

Matt Clifford has designed wonderful music and soundscape for this show. The lighting design is simple and effective. The audience is particularly admiring of the giant shadows while Mr Pugh cavorts, and the flickering news reel effect for the guide book. Anna van den Bosch and Jordan Lawson, the lighting and sound technicians, are more than just operators, they are an integral part of the show. Their timing and the scenes they create are fantastic. 

Director Tony Boncza can be proud of the show he helped create as it ends in a standing ovation. Sadly, there is only one performance of Under Milkwood in Dunedin. If you missed out, you may be lucky enough to get one of the last couple of tickets for Shylock – also performed by Guy Masterson at 2pm on Sunday the 9th of October. 

[Masterson takes both shows to the Nelson Arts Festival this week then Auckland (Herald Theatre) next week.] 


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