Review: Under Milk Wood

Kate Edwards 15 November 2012

Under Milk Wood

ADC Theatre, 11pm, until Sat 17 Nov

‘To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black…’ So begins Dylan Thomas’ irresistible Under Milk Wood, set in the tiny fishing village of Llangerrub, or ‘bugger all’. The ADC’s current lateshow lets these words resound through the dark, the lantern-wielding first and second voices (Octavia Sheepshanks and Clementine Hollyer) introducing the audience into this world.

Keeping the stage darkened for so long, at such regular intervals, certainly emphasises Thomas’ gorgeous script, originally written as a ‘play for voices’. It works well as the play slips between characters’ dreams, though the green lighting and black-plastic-bag costumes of the dead lend Captain Cat’s introduction an uncomfortable air of the primary school assembly. The set shifts effectively to accommodate an entire town, just minimal enough for pieces such as the bed to have a real impact when present- the scenes with Mrs Ogmore Pritchard (Kiana Thorpe) and her two deceased husbands made particularly comic use of this.

The cast of freshers are for the most part strong and well-directed as they slip in and out of one another’s lives and indeed in and out of multiple characters, creating a convincingly small-town atmosphere. The use of accent is frequently questionable, however, with some attempts at the Welsh lilt detracting from otherwise strong performances. When it is done right, notably by the excellent Camilla Seale as the Reverend Jenkins, the words are a delight to hear- the rumbling vernacular of George Longworth as Captain Cat was similarly effective. These two performances are joined by those of Rebecca Phillips as Polly Garter and Olivia Bell as Rosie Probert as the best of the night; Phillips, particularly, brought out real integrity in Polly, making her occasional bursts of song all the more poignant.

It is genuine emotional depth which also marks out Bell and Longworth’s scenes together as blind Captain Cat and his dead lover, Rosie Probert. Their warm interaction quickly gives way to Rosie’s assurance that she has already forgotten him, and the cruel comedy of a child noting that ‘he is crying all over his nose’ as he dreams of her is well played, effectively exploring the play’s frequent, sudden shifts in tone. The narrators skirt about the edges of the play all the while, coming into their own during scenes such as the silent-movie drama of Mr and Mrs Pugh. Here, the slightly hammy green light works well, and the bathos of ‘You know best, dear’ took its full comic effect as the lights came up and the two ‘voices’ shifted back to the sides of the stage, framing the scenes to come.

Overall, despite a few slightly dodgy accents and visuals this production comes off well, aided by some excellent individual performances. Comic elements are perhaps given excessive emphasis over the piece’s poetry, neglecting the vivid narrative voice in favour of the physical comedy of Willy-Nilly and other such figures, which left me a little disappointed. That said, it was still a very entertaining evening, which showcased some brilliant new talent.

Kate Edwards