Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Under Milk Wood

Theatre Tours International/Guy Masterson Production , Weston Studio – Wales Millennium Centre , January-12-05
Date: Tues Jan 12 – Sat Jan 15 2005

There is no doubt that Guy Masterson is a consummate man of the theatre. His company has produced nearly forty productions since its inception in 1991. He is a major force at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where his productions have won many awards including best Actor in 2001 for his solo performance in Dylan Thomas ’Fern Hill.’

Here in this remarkable and brave one-man presentation of Thomas’ most famous ‘theatre’ piece he demonstrates a great command of stage techniques that animate and enhance the work. With great skill he manipulates every part of his body to express the emotions of the characters as he brings them to life.

We see only one man in a pair of, rather bedraggled pyjamas, which presumably he has “taken from the drawer marked pyjamas”, but he paints some real pictures of the characters he displays before us. His gentle, echoing singing of Polly Garter’s song is extraordinarily effective, he mimes the ringing out of her damp cloth, as she washes the floor like a conjurer producing a magic bunch of flowers. There are many other physical moments that are equally effective and often very amusing.

Curiously the single voice performance allowed one to concentrate on the writing more clearly than a fully cast presentation and in the 250 seat Weston Studio a much more intimate relationship with the work was established. Dylan Thomas’ words draw his characters so clearly and he puts then all into such familiar settings that they all become people we know about, some even our relatives or friends! It is also remarkable, despite the possible accusation of Welsh stereotypes, which I personally don’t support, many of us here in Wales are pretty stereotypical anyway, however individual we all may be, how contemporary many of Dylan’s human characteristics remain and probably always will.

The actor is supported by inventive and sensitive direction by Tony Boncza and the recent addition of music and sound effects by Matt Clifford and the lighting of the simple black box stage complete a very satisfying and pleasing aesthetic. Is it too much to ask the WMC to provide black masking up and down the sides of the stage as well as across the back?

There is no doubting Masterson’s enthusiasm and passion for the work. He communicates with no little flare and at times with very real charm. His energy and commitment made a big leap forward in the second half and we all became much more involved with the exploits of the characters. He has been performing the work since 1994. He needs to take care that over familiarity doesn’t undermine his spontaneity. There is an extraordinary and even greater than ever demand on an actor’s concentration in reviving a work that has been in his repertoire for such a long time, most of the time Masterson succeeds extraordinarily well.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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