Under Milk Wood

Under Milk Wood
By Dylan Thomas. Heidelberg Theatre Company. Directed by Chris Baldock, assisted by Helen Ellis. Nov 17 – Dec 3, 2011.

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood is a dazzling piece of writing, so alive and so descriptive of the inhabitants of the Welsh village of Llareggub, you can see, hear, smell and feel the place. From this gorgeous source material, director Chris Baldock and assistant director Helen Ellis have created a truly magical show.

From its clever, deceptively simple set - allowing characters to move in and out of each other’s lives, doorways and hearts with ease – to the impressively consistent performances of its large ensemble cast, this show is a delight.

 

There are many challenges in taking this story to the stage. Firstly, there is an entire village of women, men, a salty sea captain, postman, ghosts, babies, elderly people, teenagers, children, fishermen, a lusty school mistress, a publican, an organ player, sailors and more. Characters swoop in and out of the story, some with just one or two lines. The town itself is perhaps the strongest character of all.   

This production starts with the entire cast on the stage, reciting the vivid opening lines as a chorus. Characters speak alternate lines, sometimes speaking as one. Every actor adopts a Welsh accent and makes it convincing, to my ears at least. In one of the most brilliant scenes, Captain Cat (Paul Freeman) emerges from the chorus to recite tales from his ocean voyages. The actors around him writhe and sway like waves, enhanced by dreamy lighting. Freeman has another great scene later on, when Captain Cat acts as narrator and describes the comings and goings of the men and women in the town. It is especially moving when he listens to children singing in the distance, and croons along with them.

Hen-pecked husband Mr Pugh (Dan Hagan), and his mean (and funny) wife Mrs Pugh (Janine Evans) get the biggest laughs with their macabre dinner table scenes. There were shades of Monty Python in Hagan, as he alternated from withered man to raging beast, and back again. Evans relishes her role as the despicable Mrs Pugh, who is just as toxic as the poison her husband dreams of using on her.

Everyone will have their favorite characters from this play, but it succeeds because of its strong cast. It's rare to see a play in which all the actors are equally talented and connected to the words of the playwright. And with words like those written by Thomas, you wouldn't want it any other way. Highly recommended. 

Sara Bannister

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Peter Kemp caught the production on a sultry November evening.

Unfortunately the night I attended Heidelberg’s final production of the year was hot, sticky and thundery - not an ideal evening for approximately two hours nonstop of monologues.

The stage was set on three levels with the top level consisting of walls pierced by many openings used to the full extent for entry, exits and changes of scenes. The centre set was on a revolve and audience right was the Sailor’s Arms, the local pub.

The story of the village of Llareggub (read it backwards) narrated and describing one day in the life of the village.

A cast of 15 gave professional performances, playing the parts of about 41 residents, changing characters very successfully. They all had strong Welsh accents which were sustained throughout, though on occasion the accents led to some difficulty in understanding the dialogue.

Their projection was good and the costume changes were efficient. Stage movement was smooth, particularly with such a large cast moving up and down different levels and across the full stage.

An unusual play inasmuch as there was no particular story, just a narration by two narrators and the actors themselves talking in the third person about their characters.

Not a play to see on such an evening as Melbourne had.

Peter Kemp

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