Sunday, 29 October 2017

REVIEW: Under Milk Wood at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury

Under Milk Wood was first staged in the West End in 1954, the night before it was broadcast by BBC radio and remains today an innovative and delightful play for voices in which Dylan Thomas wonderful poetic language paints glorious pictures of the people and village of Llareggub in Wales . It was also the first professional play at the fantastic Watermill Theatre and therefore is a fitting revival to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

The Play spans one spring day in the village whose name spells bugger all backwards and while it is true not much happens, we meet and learn about the lives and interests of nearly 50 residents in the village . These characters are played with simple costume changes by an excellent cast of 5 and our guide is Alistair McGowan as the voice. He starts in the darkness with "to begin at the beginning " and the light gradually rises as the day dawns and the characters awake from their dreams. The bare thrust stage , with pale blue clouds on a back cloth provides a blank canvas on which his words paint the various locations from Bay view to Bath cottage and along Coronation street and Donkey street . As he says "the town ripples like a lake in the waking haze".

There are some stand out characterisations during this production which is smartly directed by Brendan O'Hea and gently and humorously reveals the thoughts of the inhabitants. 

The day starts and ends with a poem spoken aloud on the door step by Rev. Ali Jenkins played with great charm by Steffan Cennydd. He also introduces us to Willy Nilly, the postman and Sinbad Sailor.

We also meet blind Captain Cat , played with a gruff voice by Lynn Hunter during his dreams as the voices echo around the auditorium and then later in the day he "observes the morning's toing and froing" from his viewpoint ( represented by a ladder) based on the sounds that echo across the village.

We meet Mr and Mrs Pugh played by Ross Ford and Caroline Sheen whose cold relationship across the dinner table is tense and icy as he reads the book "Lives of great poisoners " wrapped in brown paper and is described as having a "Victorian moustache in honour of Dr Crippen". 

Later we meet Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, haunted by her two husbands and Gossamer Benyon, the teacher with a host of admirers played by Charlotte O'Leary in her professional debut.

They work extremely well together, seamlessly changing locations and characters.

However the real star of the production is the poetic language of Dylan Thomas
. It feels that he must have poured over every sentence, carefully selecting the words, the alliteration and the rhythms. He has great fun with euphemisms and metaphors for sexual relationships that seem to dominate the thoughts of the villagers. Such lines as "she was martyred last night", "let me shipwreck in your thighs", "strip her to the nipple and bees" and "all cucumber and hooves" got the biggest laughs but some were originally censored for BBC radio.

This is a strong fun production, simply staged and lit, with a delightful sound track, and excellent performers who deliver the wonderful words with a crisp clarity.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★
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