Theatre in Wales

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Memorable New Theatre Inauguration with Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton


RWCMD Cardiff- Under Milk Wood , Richard Burton Theatre, RWCMD Cardiff , June 24, 2011
At RWCMD by RWCMD Cardiff- Under Milk Wood Jubilation is in the air. It seems not so long ago that a Royal College show would be prefaced by a student making an appeal for funds for the great project-to-be. Now, a day after midsummer, the last piece of scaffolding has been removed. The television cameras are there for the ceremonies. There are dedications and speeches. The Lords and Chairs who made the project happen are in attendance. But in truth it is not their building. It is for the next generation of performers, designers and creators and it is they who make the day joyous.

A trio of young trumpeters blows fanfares from the gallery that links the two new performance spaces, theatre and concert hall. The atrium has windows forty feet high that look out on the trees of Bute Park, now in full flower. The day has been one of alternating shower and sun and the organisers could not have wished for a finer, fresher, leafier vista. It is backdrop to eight young sopranos with a repertoire that is not exactly Tosca. In black leggings and t-shirts, a flower in their hair, they are singing Sondheim’s “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” with its whooping “ooo-ooo-ooo’s.” It is one thing to move and shimmy in a choreographed unison. But to communicate that you are loving doing it too, that is the real thing.

In the pristine theatre the very first words in this inaugural production are spoken by Richard Burton. It is the nature of performance that description can never catch quite what it is. But Robert Hardy, a close friend for forty years and part of the great Old Vic season of 1951, called it a “voice that would sing like a violin and with a bass that could shake the floor.” That great inimitable voice invites us down to the “slow black, crowblack, fishing boat bobbing sea” that is Llareggub; from then it is over to the College’s students.

Director Marilyn le Conte has staged “Under Milk Wood” as a radio recording. The twelve actors move to the large microphones stage front, speak their multiple roles and step back to let the next performers come forward. They are dressed in cardigans, slipovers and cotton dresses in a simulacrum of the 1950’s. To one side of the stage Benjamin Frank Vaughan conducts the orchestra of seven. At the close more singers and children glide on stage for a lovely choral rendition of “Ar Hyd Y Nos.”

The cast belong to the College’s second year. Rebecca Newman gives her characters particular facial animation. Non Haf and Jessica Hayles are both possessed of voices already of distinctive timbre. James Peake gives a comically rendered characterisation of Organ Morgan. Mrs Pugh is suitably stern. Jack Baggs speaks Mr Jenkins and his other characters with a fine intonation. Katherine Pearce sings Polly Garter in a way to make the heart tremble. In truth they are all good and the performances collectively whet the appetite for their third year productions.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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