Tuesday, 13 June 2017

REVIEW: Under Milk Wood at Newcastle People’s Theatre

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Under Milk Wood
by Dylan Thomas
Newcastle People’s Theatre
Tuesday 13th to Saturday 17th June 2017

Photo: Paula Smart
Dylan Thomas produced Under Milk Wood as a specially commissioned radio play for the BBC just before he died at the age of just 39.  That first production by the BBC in1954 had the legendary Richard Burton as First Voice. So how does this week’s production at People’s Theatre match up?

Photo: Paula Smart
The stage design by Tim Swinton has the stage set up as a BBC radio studio. Indeed the first voice we hear is one that can be best described as received pronunciation as the radio stage manager makes a preliminary announcement to the audience.

Photo: Paula Smart
The show starts with Frank Coles as the first voice and Steve Hewitt as the second voice.  They are the omniscient narrator, describing the scene through the wonderful verse of Dylan Thomas. His lyrical sensibilities have a Shakespearean quality. The very Welsh nature of the phrasing, like Shakespeare, can take a little time for one to adjust to if one isn’t used to it. But once you are tuned to the descriptive genius you are in for a treat.

Photo: Paula Smart
The play starts with the sleepy dreams of the inhabitants of the small fictional Welsh fishing village of Llareggub. The choice of name clearly a part of Dylan’s sense of humour - read it backwards to see what I mean. We are exposed to the inner thoughts of 43 inhabitants. It is an overload of exposition. The tale then takes then through their day and then to their return to sleep.  To deliver this we have a talented ensemble cast of 10. Unusual for The Peoples we also have live music under Musical Director Stephen Waller. A Choir also puts an appearance in. We love live music and prefer it to a tape.

Photo: Paula Smart
The sound design enables involves microphones, just like a radio show. These enable sound effects from snoring to the clattering as the cows are milked. We have previously reviewed dramas based on a radio production, such as Frank Sumatra, and have seen how the special effects can be made more prominent and help add to the comedy of the situation. This, however, is the BBC and so a man brushing a box to get a particular sound isn’t intended to be funny in itself. That said, director Gordon Russell has ensured the timing allows a regular flow of chuckles along the way, though they usually come from the script and the ensembles delivery.

Photo: Paula Smart

Under Milk Wood is a departure in a number of ways for the People’s Theatre. That said, they’re not afraid to take on the different or the difficult. In a mixture of performance spoken word and dramatic presentation we have a fine production. If you love the lyrical style of Thomas then you will be in for a treat. If you think of him as a bit of a windbag, who goes on a bit, then this is unlikely too convert you. The ensemble didn’t put a foot wrong and I think it is great to hear this play performed live.

Review by Stephen Oliver.


Tickets cost £13.50 (Concessions £11) and are available for the box office on 0191 265 5020 or via the website www.peoplestheatre.co.uk


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