Dylan Thomas’ “play for voices” introduces the audience to the residents of Llareggub, a small Welsh town by the sea, exploring their lives and thoughts over the course of a night and a day.
With what feels like hundreds of characters to create, this was an impressive performance from the entire cast. The actors seamlessly changed character, location and position in society, skilfully bringing to life Thomas’ vision of Welsh culture. Although the fast-paced, cacophonic structure of the play meant it was difficult to isolate specific characters, there were still a few stand-out performances. Owen Teale’s lulling, dream-like intonation was a perfect introduction to the dream sequences of the play, and also for Thomas’ rhythmic poetic style. Katie Elin-Salt’s beautiful rendition of Polly Garter’s song of lost love brought a welcome moment of slow reflection to such a hasty play. The whole cast’s singing skills were also demonstrated with a scene of drunken merriment at the end, where I really began to appreciate Teale’s earlier statement that ‘we are a musical nation’. Wales certainly seems a nation of singers.
All that this production lacked was an appreciation that it was a theatrical adaptation of a radioplay. Obviously the focus of ‘Under Milk Wood’ is the poetry itself, but in this production it remained a play for voices and that alone. Although the set had to be flexible to allow for multiple and fast scene changes, it seemed little or no effort had been made with the set design or props. There was nothing visual for the theatre-viewer rather than the radio-listener to appreciate. As a test I shut my eyes at one point, and in a testament to the skills of the poet and the cast, could understand perfectly what was happening, but felt that I had gained nothing from opening them again.
This production was therefore an entertaining and well-acted aural poetry recital, but not a visual, dramatic evening of theatre.