Excellent revival of Under Milk Wood at lovely little Newbury theatre
Under Milk Wood, New Era Players, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from March 17-19 and 22-26. Review by ANDY KEMPE
To begin at the beginning, day dawns over Llareggub.
A vivid picture of the still sleeping fishing village is painted by a melody of words. As the day progresses, we are introduced to a panoply of colourful, fanciful but at the same time recognisably everyday characters – old blind Captain Cat, sweet sweetshop keeper Myfanwy Price whose love affair with Mog Edwards is confined to the daily exchange of letters (intercepted and read by Mrs Willy Nilly, the postman’s wife), fearsome Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard who keeps both of her husbands under her thumb notwithstanding the fact that they are dead, coquettish Mae Rose Cottage (17 and never been kissed?), Mr Pugh who harbours dreams of poisoning his tyrannical wife, and lovelorn Polly Garter in whom many a man has found comfort leaving her to find comfort in her babies and the memory of her beloved Wee Willy who is dead, dead, dead.
Hats off to director Stephen Bennett for marshalling a large cast aging from six years old to, well, I wouldn’t want to say! Charged with presenting a myriad of characters, it’s a tricky job for the director and cast of this masterpiece to differentiate between those characters with subtle alterations of voice, minimal costume changes and swift entrances and exits.
While Dylan Thomas’ lilting language evokes the gently lapping waters of the bay and the hazy sun dappled woods that overlook the village, such harmonies contrast with the sharply observed sharp tongues of the local women and the wistful, secret thoughts of the men. Giving life to such beautifully textured language on stage is demanding though. Welsh accents really are compulsory here as is eloquence and a refined sense of rhythm.
It was pleasing to see so many young actors in the company and being given an opportunity to learn about diction, projection and characterisation from the more experienced players who met the challenges of poetry with aplomb. The ensemble nature of the production would make it invidious to single out performers of particular quality. Suffice to say that New Era can boast a number of talented troupers who have trodden the boards of their lovely little theatre many times.
The play was staged with a minimalist but effective set, colour and detail being provided by the characters. There were times when I felt a little more light was needed and I wondered if more might have been done to create atmosphere with sounds, but these are churlish niggles of what is an otherwise excellent revival.
New Era Theatre is located on the Andover Road in Wash Common. From the direction of Newbury it is on the right hand side, just in front of St George’s Chruch Hall.