Posts Tagged ‘Dylan Thomas’

I think I would best describe this intriguing play by Ed Thomas as Samuel Beckett meets Dylan Thomas. It’s dialogue is poetic and it’s story is obscure, something I often turn against, but here I found it rather captivating.

John Daniel and his wife Noni are the last inhabitants of Bear Ridge. They’ve had to close their butchers shop. The post office has stopped delivering mail and their phone line has been cut. Their shop assistant & slaughter-man Ifan William has stayed with them. We don’t exactly know why Bear Ridge is being deserted, though it appears to be the result of a war of some sorts. Fighter planes occasionally fly overhead and an army man, The Captain, pays a visit.

Their conversation ranges from their plight to reminiscences about a happier past and reflections on tragedy, when we learn that John Daniel & Noni’s son, and Ifan William’s best friend, went to university to study philosophy but was killed because he spoke ‘the old language’. The Captain, a clearly tortured soul, has his own tragic story to tell. I’m still trying to piece it all together, with an intriguing note in the play-script suggesting it is ‘semi-autobiographical’.

Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola are both terrific as the couple at the centre of the story, with fine support from Sion Daniel Young as Ifan William and Jason Hughes as The Captain. Cai Dyfan’s design is hugely atmospheric, the exit of the walls representing the decline, as is the music and sound design. The Royal Court’s AD Vicky Featherstone co-directs with the playwright.

National Theatre Wales has gone through a difficult time of late, but it’s good to see them back, and in London, with this Royal Court co-production. I suspect I will be processing it for some time yet.

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Dylan Thomas’ ‘play for voices’ was never meant to be staged, but it was meant to be listened to rather than read. The staging here is minimal, though you are seeing the characters and the narrator, but they haven’t attempted to match them by age, sex, shape or size, and voices come from all directions, sometimes from unseen characters. Somehow that makes it feel like it was meant to be.

If you’re Welsh, like me, it may occupy a special place in your heart. I have no idea what it’s like if you’re not, so this is one Welshman’s subjective view. It’s the aural equivalent of an impressionist painting of life in a small Welsh seaside town. The characters are archetypes rather than caricatures; you recognise aspects and characteristics of people you may have known. A list of products in a shop raises a smile of recognition which sometimes becomes a wave of nostalgia. It’s music to the ears, words put together beautifully, making something that’s often funny, sometimes rude and always evocative. It’s an expression of Welshness in a time gone by.

Alistair McGowan narrates as ‘the voice’ and five other performers create the thirty-seven residents of the cheekily names Llareggub (try it backwards). There are changes of lighting, some sound effects, children’s voices and the odd scarf or other piece of clothing, but no set or props. A pose or expression are the only addition to the voices. It made me feel cosy, warm and nostalgic. Lovely.

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My insatiable appetite for site-specific and immersive theatre took me to Brighton on a sunny May day for two shows. This was the first.

It started on a bus fueled by used cooking oil. The man in tweed was handing out winner’s rosettes. I was third in the onion over 250g class. When we arrived at our destination we learned it was where eccentric 19th century Shakespeare scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (HP) used to live in a warren of mock tudor huts. From here we walked along the edge of some woods to a mini-lecture by an expert on HP, Charles Nichol. Along the way, we encountered a mute HP and glimpsed strange creatures who looked like trees.

The main event was a sort of treasure hunt through the lovely and very much active Roedale Allotments, in a small valley descending from what must be Brighton’s highest spot. We went individually in search of twelve allotment huts, each representing a different month, each with a plant referred to by Shakespeare growing in a pot with an accompanying postcard to add to our collection, a quote from the respective play written on a mirror and a knitted Shakespearean character. It ended with tea and cake and our final encounter with HP and the creatures, before the bus took us home.

It wasn’t until the end that I realised its deviser, Marc Rees, was the man behind NTW’s wonderful celebration of Dylan Thomas in Laugharne in his centenary year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/raw-material-llareggub-revisited). Both were delightfully quirky and eccentric events. This connection of a Shakespeare scholar and his home with Shakespeare’s plays and his enjoyment of growing was charming and a unique celebration of Shakespeare 400.

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Breaking my no solo shows rule again for a late addition (well, for London anyway) to the Dylan Thomas centenary, a play named after a poem he wrote when he was 15.

Gwynne Thomas’ play covers the period soon after Thomas came to London and began working for BBC radio. Set mostly in the radio studio, some of it is ‘on air’ but most ‘off air’.  In addition to reading and talking about his work, he tells us about other aspects of his life and relationships and it ends as he considers another trip to the US.

I thought the performance (Rhodri Miles, excellent) was better than the writing, which seemed to lack focus and structure. I would have preferred a more linear story; it seemed a bit all over the place at times. The simple setting was atmospheric and a real sense of period was created.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the readings, plays, concerts and films of this centenary year; it’s extraordinary that a poet who died 62 years ago aged 39 can still cast a spell and captivate people.



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National Theatre Wales’ contribution to the Dylan Thomas centenary wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but it proved to be a lovely afternoon and I was glad I made the trip from London. A wander around Laugharne to see installations, watch VT’s and listen to ‘broadcasts’, bookended by scenes behind the Tin Shed, in a bus garage and outside the Town Hall, with a funeral procession through the main street following a fish & chip hut with neon signage!

There are only two characters, Mike Voyce (Russell Gomer) – a spin on Thomas’ first voice / narrator – and Roy Ebsworth-Williams (Charles Dale), our ‘tour guide’, but we also get all sixteen Lauharne Players, who’ve been putting on Under Milk Wood annually since 1958, including the town mayor, who proves to be a proper raconteur in true Dylan Thomas fashion. The ‘broadcasts’, superbly written by Jon Treganna (who runs Browns Hotel!), emanate from loud speakers at four points during your wander, with ‘handouts’ for you to relish the Dylanesque narrative. The installations created by Marc Rees are all over the town, and in a series of huts (Corrugation Street!) on the edge of the estuary you’re shown footage from the (then) forthcoming BBC Wales (Welsh) star-studded TV production of Under Milk Wood. You peer into Dylan’s writing shed, walk through his home The Boathouse and make a pilgrimage to his grave in St Martin’s Church yard.

We struggled to visit all of the locations in the 90 minutes allowed between the two opening scenes and the finale, but caught up with those we missed later. It had a homespun feel, a real community project, and when we’d completed it all and read the broadcasts it all fell into place, leaving a very satisfying feeling. A sunny afternoon probably helped. I so admire the ambition and imagination of NTW and have loved all four of the shows I’ve managed to catch and now can’t wait for my First World War adventure in a field in Usk next month!


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