UNDER MILK WOOD Review New Theatre, Cardiff 13 March 2014

A FAULTLESS REPRODUCTION OF A DYLAN CLASSIC

 

‘To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea’.

Those few words spoken by Owen Teale, First Voice, set the scene for what was to be a remarkable performance by a group of artists that combined well together to breathe life into a day in the village of Llareggub.

The audience looks down on the harbour and the nestling cottages of Llareggub waiting for dawn to break. This innovative and impressive three-dimensional background catches the eye in the beginning but soon becomes secondary to the larger than life characters that grace the stage.

  

All the village’s well-known characters turned up (dead or alive) for this latest version of the Dylan classic and this review concentrates on some of the village people as the two narrators guided the audience through their characters’ dreams and desires.

 

Captain Cat was first to make his presence known played by the very imposing Ifan Huw Dafydd. A more impressively acted blind sea-dog would have been difficult to find.

 

Richard Elfyn’s main part as the oppressed husband of Mrs Pugh, is played with menacing realism as he plots her demise by reference to the book ‘Lives of the great poisoners’ (available under the counter at all good bookstores).

Simon Nehan was particularly memorable for his portrayal of Butcher Beynon and Eli Jenkins, the reverend, poet, preacher and author of the White Book of Llareggub.

Steven Meo makes his own special effects (with some apparent odour filled ad-libbing) and draws out the most laughter from the audience as his roles include Organ Morgan, Ocky Milkman, Nogood Boyo and Willy Nilly. His high hopes of satisfying his sexual frustration, one of the themes of his performance were not achieved in the way he wanted. 

Sara Harris-Davies appears well suited to playing parts that involve studious gossiping and child-like masochistic excesses and as someone who also has a penchant for sharing a husband as Mrs Dai Bread One.

Meanwhile Mr Dai Bread, played by Kai Owen, is well on his way to assembling a harem, and seemingly enjoying the prospect.

Sophie Melville as Mrs Dai Bread Two, provides the sexual chemistry for her bigamist husband and has similar yearnings as Gossamer Beynon, but in contrast she is also Mrs Pugh, a wife that most males would shrink from.

Caryl Morgan is seen to best effect in her roles of Myfanwy Price, the sweetshop-keeper who is besotted with Mog Edwards and Lily Smalls who is tied to the demands of the Beynons’ but longs for a more exciting life.

Katie Elin-Salt was accomplished in all her roles and her rendition as Polly Garter was a haunting and emotional gem.

Second Voice, was Christian Patterson. One might think that Second Voice would pass unnoticed under the radar. Not a bit of it as he clearly and effectively contributes to the storyline. Soon after the start Second Voice (Christian Patterson) seamlessly continues the story-telling, his smooth tone and perfect diction addressing the challenge of reproducing difficult phrases.

Owen Teale is no Richard Burton but why should he be? He gave heart and soul to his performance as First Voice. He was outstanding, executing his role with style, expression, crystal clear diction with appropriate emphasis. This was a performance of real passion that was clearly evidence throughout until he and the rest of the cast left the stage.

 

 

This production is without doubt a masterpiece that the Clwyd Theatr Cymru creative team can deservedly be proud of. It was as intended a play for voices, so fittingly this review ends where it started through the voice of Owen Teale as First Voice speaking the final words:

 

‘The thin night darkens. A breeze from the creased water sighs the streets close under Milk waking Wood. The Wood, whose every tree-foot's cloven in the black glad sight of the hunters of lovers, that is a God-built garden to Mary Ann Sailors who knows there is Heaven on earth and the chosen people of His kind fire in Llaregyb's land, that is the fairday farmhands' wantoning ignorant chapel of bridesbeds, and, to the Reverend Eli Jenkins, a greenleaved sermon on the innocence of men, the suddenly wind-shaken wood springs awake for the second dark time this one Spring day’.

 

 

 

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