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Under Milk Wood (Colchester)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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We are presented with two soundscapes in Gari Jones’ staging of Dylan Thomas’ play for voices. The first, and most important, is that of Thomas’ own words. The second has been devised by sound designer Marcus Christensen and consists of a sparse almost atonal score interleaved with the sound of a village caught between the sea and the hills. In a very real sense, this is a lyrical production.

Nine actors play the 50 different parts. We meet them first as – sleeping – they people Sara Perks’ expansive multi-location set which overflows the normal stage into the auditorium (if you sit in the front three rows you’ll need to turn around in your seat quite a bit). There’s no attempt to update from the 1950s and dialect coach Charmain Hoare has settled for a lilt and an inflection as far as Welsh accents are concerned. Even so, not every word comes over clearly, not that it really matters. Think of it as an opera rather than an ordinary play.

It would be wrong to signal out individual performances for this is an ensemble show in every sense of the word. From the drowned sailors etched against the bar windows as they are recalled to Captain Cat’s faltering memory to the mischievous school-children and the warm-hearted, open-legged Polly Garter they present themselves as vignettes from a particular time, place and imagination which are yet of any place and for all time. The icy Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard with her hen-pecked dead husbands, the incompatible Cherry Owens and Organ Morgans, the lonely and the loving all come forward in turn to greet us, and we recognise them.

Christine Absolom, Miranda Bell, Clare Humphrey, Gina Isaac and Emily Woodward inhabit the women’s parts. Ignatius Anthony, Pete Ashmore, Roger Delves-Broughton and David Tarkenter are the men in their lives, past, present and (just perhaps) yet to come. This is the stuff of dreams, in more than one sense. But it's never that of nightmares.


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