Under Milk Wood (Theatre Royal, Bath)

A fitting tribute to Thomas’ great play ”Under Milk Wood” tours to Bath.

It is hard to imagine a finer tribute to Dylan Thomas in his centenary year than Terry Hands‘ glowing production for Teatr Clwyd of the poet’s great play, which is on tour across the country this spring and early summer. Hands’ outstanding cast relishes the language, the comedy and the honesty of Thomas’ portrait of a small coastal village and its inhabitants over the course of one spring day.

From the opening moments as Owen Teale‘s First Voice sets the scene and we accustom ourselves to the cadences and richness of Thomas’ language the production induces in the audience a rapt attentiveness which never lets up. He bids us listen and we do. First, in the middle of the 'starless and bible-black' night we attend to the characters’ dreams in all their comedy and surrealism. Then as time passes we see their daily lives, their hopes, fears and disappointments, the hilarity and pain that make up human life. Sex, the longing for it, the memory of it, the disapproval of it is a major theme along with the nature of community. There is affection there, but also a feeling for the role of gossip in people’s lives, how it brings people together and can exclude and damage others.

A rich cast of characters is vividly brought to life by a faultless cast, all playing numerous roles, all perfectly in control of both the humour and the pathos. Hedydd Dylan is particularly fine as Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, doubly widowed, still nagging her late husbands from her dust-defying bedroom. Sophie Melville ‘sweet as a razor’ as Mrs. Pugh makes it more than clear why her husband (Richard Elfyn, also excellent) should purchase a copy of ‘Lives of the Great Poisoners’. Christian Patterson as the Second Voice is, like Teale, in perfect command of the poetic, metaphor and simile-laden language.

Martyn Bainbridge‘s design with its bird’s-eye view of the village on the back wall and its elegant curving walkway complements Hands’ immaculate direction and lighting.

What does one do after the glory days of running one of the big national companies and the guest spots in Paris and New York are over? Many go onto well-deserved freelance careers or start up their own companies. Terry Hands has shown there is another way. His work in north Wales has revived a once-struggling theatre and created a first-rate ensemble with a challenging repertoire. It is good to see it and him getting national exposure with this tremendous revival.

– John Campbell

Under Milk Wood plays in Bath until the 10 May and tours to Malvern, Liverpool, Plymouth, Birmingham, Cheltenham, Brighton and Richmond until the 12 July.