Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Under Milk Wood

Wales Theatre Company , Swansea Grand Theatre , October-11-03
In a recent interview for Swansea University's student publication Waterfront, the acclaimed theatre director Michael Bogdanov is quoted as saying that Dylan Thomas is "the greatest lyric poet of the 21st century" - no mean achievement for a man who passed away in 1953, but let us be charitable and assume that this was a misprint.

This eagerly awaited and much-hyped new production of Thomas's legendary Play for Voices is the first offering from the newly- formed Wales Theatre Company, of which Bogdanov is the Artistic
Director: the principal aim of the company is "to raise the profile of Welsh theatre throughout Wales and beyond" - a laudable ambition, and one which deserves to be supported.

Visually, this is a particularly stark and economical interpretation, taking the piece back to its roots and evoking the lives, loves, hopes and dreams of the inhabitants of Llareggub in an imaginative
and inventive manner.

Matthew Rhys, as the Dylanesque First Voice, may not possess the gravitas or physical presence of the likes of Richard Burton or Philip Madoc, but this is an altogether more youthful production than those which have gone before and it is evident that Rhys
relishes the challenge of carrying the narrative forward - as indeed does Nia Roberts, whose Second Voice provides the yin to Rhys's yang.

Llinos Daniel, Phylip Harries, Russell Gomer, Kathryn Dimery, Nickie Rainsford and Morgan Rhys weave in and out of their characterisations with extraordinary skill and bags of energy, throwing a new light upon familiar figures such as Lily Smalls, Mary Ann Sailors and Mr Waldo and also taking on more challenging roles such as nanny goats, cattle and in one case even a hissing primus stove.

Much of the overt vulgarity which elicited gales of laughter from the predominantly youthful audience on the evening of the first preview performance has been toned down considerably for the final version, and the piece is all the better for it: Bogdanov's apparent preoccupation with onanism and carnality is perhaps
understandable given the meanings inherent in Thomas's prose, but a little self-restraint has resulted in a piece of theatre which is more readily acceptable to a wider audience who might otherwise feel alienated and uncomfortable.

The inclusion of traditional Welsh hymn tunes is perhaps a little problematic inasmuch as it serves only to feed stereotypical misconceptions of Wales and the Welsh, but such minor niggles do not detract from the fact that this is a smart and classy re-telling of a celebrated work.

It will be fascinating to see the company grow in stature and confidence as the months tick by - one can only hope that future productions from Wales Theatre Company are as compelling and atmospheric as this one, and that the company continues to acknowledge the support and assistance of the City and County
of Swansea and the staff and management of Swansea Grand Theatre, whose combined efforts have contributed so much to the success of this courageous new venture.

Reviewed by: Graham Williams

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