UNDER MILK WOOD
Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
13/10/2018 - 10/11/2018
“To begin at the beginning…”
Join us at Circa Theatre for Dylan Thomas’ masterpiece Under Milk Wood, a delightful if peculiar story of the daily life in “Llareggub” (read it backwards), a small Welsh town by the sea.
Meet the eccentric townsfolk…
Captain Cat, the old blind sea captain who dreams of his drowned shipmates and lost lover, Myfanwy Price, the sweetshop-keeper lusting after Mog Edwards; Organ Morgan, obsessed with his organ; postman Willy Nilly who reads his neighbours’ letters, Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, relentlessly nagging her two dead husbands… Polly Garter, Nogood Boyo, Lord Cut-Glass and many others. Walk along Coronation Street, down to the little fishing harbour as Thomas explores their lives, dreams, disappointments and desires.
Rich with haunting, indelible images of humanity, our production of this much loved classic will feature an evocative video landscape, a stunning composed soundtrack from Gareth Farr and five amazing actors playing over 60 roles – and of course centre-stage is the hilarious magic of Thomas’ sharp wit and wonderful, mischievous use of language.
Under Milk Wood is an unforgettable journey… sad and sensual, bawdy and beautiful.
“The voices of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood rise and fall, crashing into each other like waves under a milky moon, their sweet prose an effervescence of sounds and syllables to intoxicate the soul.” – GOOD READS
13 Oct – 10 Nov
$30 Preview – Friday 12 Oct
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm,
Fri – Sat 8pm,
$25 – $52
Narrators: Jeff Thomas and John Bach
Director: Ross Jolly
Music Composed by Gareth Farr
AV Design: Johanna Sanders
Costume Design: Sheila Horton
Lighting Design: Marcus McShane
Set Design: Andrew Foster
Stage Manager: Eric Gardiner
Tech Operator: Deb McGuire
Tech Intern: Mattias Olofsson
Tech Riggers: Mattias Olofsson, Patrick Davies, Oliver Buckley
Set Construction Assist: Tony De Goldi, Adam Walker, Andy Howard, Simon Manns, Pierce Barber
Marketing Manger: Brianne Kerr
Marketing Designer: Rose Miller
Photography: Stephen A'Court
Script Adaptors: Rachel Henry & Ross Jolly
Circa Tech Manager: Deb McGuire
Circa Box Office Manager: Eleanor Strathern
Front of House Manager: Harish Purohit
1 h 55 min, incl. interval
A vital and rumbustious celebration of ‘LLareggub’
Review by Peter Mechen 16th Oct 2018
People who grew up with the sounds of the voices of either Dylan Thomas himself, or of Welsh actor Richard Burton, as the ‘First Voice’ on any of the two recordings of Thomas’s verse-play Under Milk Wood that were available in New Zealand from the 1950s, were given the work pretty much as its author would have expected it to be performed – as a play for voices, to be read and “acted” with voices alone, the parts distributed in live stage performances among five readers (though the Burton recording used instead over twenty individual voices with only a few duplicated actor-roles, every one a distinctively ‘Welsh’ voice).
A later, 1988 recording, featuring this time Anthony Hopkins as the principal narrator, also used a near-entirely Welsh cast, mostly one-voice-to-a-part, the producers taking the opportunity to employ several ‘star’ entertainers in certain roles to add prestige to the venture – though this had the unfortunate effect of bringing into play commercialised singing-styles and accompaniments completely at odds with the play’s rural village setting and its homespun characters, tempting one into labelling the production (complete with its soupy symphony orchestra-played sequences) as “Over-Milked Wood”. [More]
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To miss it would be a great tragedy
Review by Dave Smith 14th Oct 2018
A friend and her husband many years ago went to live in Sweden where they taught English. They stayed there several years and became imbued with the Scandinavian ethics of orderly precision and habitual civility. They returned here via one of the busier railways stations in London. As they got off the train in the rush hour they suddenly became conscious of train doors being noisily slammed, passengers having ding-dongs with garrulous guards, luggage carts falling over and West Indian porters with unbelievably white teeth sounding off in crudely shameless Cockney.
The magnificent disorder and knockabout noise was so very British they sat for an hour revelling in it like pigs in muck. No offence to Sweden, but every country reveals its basic humanity in its own individual way. Britain is no exception. Its most untidy and human face is on tarty display here in director Ross Jolly’s excellent interpretation of Under Milk Wood.
By the early 1950s Dylan Thomas had been carrying this master work around in his back pocket for around 20 years. As he progressed triumphantly around the USA in Coronation year emoting his poetry to an enthralled populace he was still adding to this highly unusual work; a dozen or so lines here and there usually after a long night in the pub. Had he lived, more off-the-wall characters and screwball dimensions might well have been added. Nobody knows … However I feel that what we now have it just right.
The stalwarts of the coastal village of Llareggub (a most perfectly scurrilous palindrome) have that uncensored, warts-and-all, in-yer-face and noisy national cockiness that men and women of Wales once so prized in their politically incorrect lives. Madness is all. The piece is untrammelled by plot. It is undiluted character and evocative sound.
The protagonists are constantly declaiming who, where and what they are. They hardly ever resort to messy things like questions on the meaning of life or where do flies go in winter. They are what they are. They throw out spontaneous statements backed by imposing body language. Five onstage actors do all the heavy lifting for scores of strange local identities as they crisscross the stage at terminal speed, bouncing off each other like atoms in the Large Hadron Collider. It is no place for the faint of heart.
Andrew Foster’s ingenious wood, linen and light-accepting set (lighting designed by Marcus McShane) gives the actors a huge lift. It consists of a stepped series of parallel washing lines leading up (with some small acting space on both sides) to a screen upon which the external environment of the village can be partly fixed and chronicled by side projection. Johanna Sanders’ audio visual design is therefore crucial and works in splendidly.
Sheila Horton’s functional costume design is both reinforcing of the period while at the same time giving the cast scope and freedom to use what they wear to change who they temporarily are – which is one of the virtual cornerstones of the wider production. The disembodied narrative voices of Jeff Thomas and John Bach, solidly underpinned by Gareth Farr’s non-intrusive but mood heightening music, play their part in softening us up for what is to come, both as the play begins and then as it progresses. Effusive congrats are also due to technical operator Deb McGuire and stage manager Eric Gardiner.
Washing on the lines itself provides an additional set of screens that give movable textures both for visual refreshment and new textual ideas. In the final moments the whole set becomes a screen for a satisfying end-of-day three dimensional ‘last look’ that beautifully settles the overall mood and gently returns us to planet earth.
The production is firmly grounded from the start as the bleakly agitated and kinetically unsettling visuals slowly reveal a tiny nook of Wales that will go through a Ulysses-type day. These are not travel agency slides. They are a warning to tighten our seat belts. The audience is going to have to listen and listen hard. Its collective imagination will be required to run riot. Connive – or damn well get out!
It was once fairly said that Dylan Thomas did not know how to write bad poetry. Here his genius has spilled over into what might be termed ‘drama with a poetry chaser’: that which supplies verbal booster-rocket power to the piece and keeps it forever spinning. Dazzling characters by the bucket-load plus razor-sharp poetic imagery equals theatrical heaven.
From a staged production perspective there are dangers in all that. The entire project runs the real risk that overtaxed actors lose focus on their multiple characters. The audience then, quite simply, gets lost and can never be re-found.
Captain Cat must suffer his blindness and anguish over past maritime tragedies one minute and then be ready to become husband to prim and proper Mrs. Pugh who, his Freudian slips would indicate, he is anxious to do away with using arsenic. We cannot have scores of separate sets to frame these dizzily divergent lives. So the actors must, time and again, define themselves and their social places, often in the face of helter-skelter action. Conventional plot continuity we do not need but rigid coherence we must have at all times.
Intelligent use of the projected visuals and the visually versatile set help to define areas of the stage. The cast intermittently use – over, under and through – the washing lines to produce something close to Punch and Judy style one minute and then as if they are those imaginative sets that kids make up with their bedding and bunks. The direction and the cast never falter in this.
If you concentrate hard there is never a moment when anchoring the mise en scene is any sort of problem. A short scarf is sufficient to promote a convincing image of children skipping in a street because the audience has tacitly agreed to mentally join up the dots. Thomas has gaily commanded us to switch generations (and back again) in the twinkling of an eye and the director, abetted by a willing audience has delivered.
In a profoundly good team effort like this it is cruel and unusual punishment to single out any cast member for special recognition. They all have mastered an unreasonably demanding brief. No matter, here goes.
Carmel McGlone leads a superb ensemble with a majestical turn that I feel she was born to do. In another life I am sure she was Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyle. Had Ms McGlone been around a century ago Chaplin and Sennett would have been fighting over her boots and all. No Thomas/Jolly ask is too big. She is able to turn from an appealing old dear into a grotesque gawky and spiteful child on a five cent piece, charmingly and skilfully taking us wherever she wants to go. No actor can do more.
Kathleen Burns, too, astounds with her dramatic range that finds its high point in a jaw-droppingly entertaining scene wherein she reminisces about how she lay in a field and used lipstick applied around her nipples; largely to impress a goat. As I said before, the human condition is not without its rough edges and breath-taking moments. Ms Burns also has a truly wonderful a cappella singing voice; you can’t do Wales without that.
Simon Leary is a madcap and clueless Nogood Boyo who spends his life fishing on the harbour but coming up with a set of old corsets. His village postman act and Organ Morgan both amuse and charm surrealistically. The former sets one of the basic norms of the play: in Llareggub the Privacy Act is most surely half a century away. All personal privacy is ruthlessly waived so that we can see deep inside the watch at what makes it tick. The postman beguilingly tells you exactly what the letter says just as he hands it to you.
Jeff Kingsford-Brown is a revelation. In many ways he binds the cast together and cleverly sets up scenes in a variety of neatly judged poses and attitudes. His would-be murderer Mr Pugh would be rendered in any film sharing his murderous thoughts by way of voice over. Onstage the putative poison aspect is communicated in strangled tones between the lines, as it were. This enables Carmel McGlone to shine through her more overt but disconnected ramblings in the exhilaratingly bizarre breakfast scene. Team work folks, team work.
Gavin Rutherford likewise fortifies the action and coats many a pill. His big-headed old lady can be turned on and off like a lightbulb as required. He too sings well. Indeed, when the whole cast is asked to vocalize, mainly in the second act when the cast really hit their straps, they sing like angels. This all goes to underline the central zeitgeist that the cockeyed village nonetheless has an unconscious synergy: its total energy is so much greater than the sum of its zany parts.
Wellingtonians might be a tad reticent in 2018 to sample an established warhorse like Under Milk Wood. There is always the underlying suspicion that a 65 year old ‘modern’ piece has now run its course or was simply ‘of its time’. To that I say the eponymous folk Llareggub are, in fact, no more worn out that Chaucer’s pilgrims, Beckett’s clowns or Pinter’s home comers. They stand for all time. Whoever is tired of Llareggub is tired of being human. I would also say that we live in an age when language has been flattened out by woeful standard prose, inept broadcasting, social media ranting and corporate ratspeak. Thomas packs his lines with devastating literary power and sends them into battle. We may not see his like again.
Finally, back to Dylan Thomas himself, a man whom his widow attested was “a shit”. Be that is it may, he was on the crest of a new wave when he died through gross medical neglect in New York in late 1953. Had he lived he was intending to collaborate with Igor Stravinksy on a new opera while taking on Hollywood for big bucks. A commercially structured lecture circuit at a tasty US$1000-a-pop also beckoned (he had failed just a few years earlier to spring 50 measly quid from the main British literary fund).
So in the end this play, an intensely personal but mere audio-work-in-progress, became his last will and testament, impressive though his earlier poems had been. Death wrenched him from the world and we were left with what we have; no more amendments allowed.
Anyone who stages Under Milk Wood is therefore dabbling with an all-time world treasure. Circa has proved that it has the professional sincerity and confidence to do that. Missing it would be great personal tragedy for anyone foolishly choosing to stay abed.
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