19 June 2014

Sparkling version of Under Milk Wood at the Ashcroft Theatre

My Dad is Welsh and my childhood included healthy doses of both Dylan Thomas and Max Boyce. In maturity (!) my interest in Max Boyce has slipped away but Dylan Thomas has stayed with me.

The star in the firmament is, obviously, Under Milk Wood and that star burns brightest in the 1963 BBC Radio version with Richard Burton as narrator. I have this version on CD and have played it many times.

When I heard that a new production was on tour the only question was when and where to see it. I chose the Ashcroft Theatre, part of the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, on the grounds that it was significantly cheaper than the closer Richmond Theatre (I was buying four tickets) and I chose the 19 June because it was a free evening. I had not added the World Cup fixtures to my calendar at that time ...

The transport was very bad to me and both trains that I caught, from Reading to Clapham Junction and then to East Croydon, were delayed and what should have been just enough time to get a beer became a few minutes late and I had to miss the first scene before being allowed in to the theatre. My seat was near the front (G10) but I had to watch the first half from the back of the front stalls, which was fine.

I was captivated from the start. This was mainly due to the narration of Owen Teale which had the same timbre and tone as Richard Burton's. He gradually introduced us to the rest of the large cast as they slept and dreamt and revealed much about themselves as they did so.

If Dylan Thomas' words were the bedrock of the production then the magnificent cast were the solid foundations and they were the people who brought the words to vivid life.

All were good but I only have space to mention a couple.

Steven Meo I recognised immediately from his leading role in BBC Three's Grownups though he was probably better known for his guest appearances in those other Welsh dramas Torchwood and Dr Who. He was the clown in the piece and even had the other cast members laughing at his antics on the toilet.

I also recognised Hedydd Dylan immediately but it took longer to work out where from and then I was embarrassed to realise that it was from the three excellent Spanish Golden Age plays that I saw at the Arcola Theatre just a few months previously. She even starred in one of them. Here she played Polly Garter whose song about a lost lover (one of many) was the most moving part of the play.

The simple stage accommodated all of the cast and gave them the space to take their turns in the limelight as the story moved through the village. Above the stage a neat model showed us the village and the passage of the sun through the day.

This production of Under Milk Wood was beautiful. It let the words shine through and the acted scenes complimented the changing moods neatly, unlike the film that did more than was necessary and so lost contact at times with its heart.

Under Milk Wood was well worth missing England v Uruguay to see.

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