Under Milk Wood – review

The Brewery, Bristol

Dylan Thomas's 1954 radio play is suffused with voices articulating their dreams and desires in "lulled and dumbfound" Llareggub, the fictional Welsh village that spells "bugger all" backwards. But director Kath Rogers brings another voice to this dreamy, lyrical drama – performed by Bob Gwilym and Kerry Joy Stewart playing seasoned radio actors Glynn Williams and Joyce Jones – in the form of Betty Foley, a troubled young woman on sound effects.

It's an inspired touch. Foley (Natasha Pring), reeling from bad news in a letter and glugging gin in the studio, mirrors the moods of the text. These build with Thomas's account of the day: Foley is numb, sozzled, exuberantly disruptive, tearful, hungover, and then snoozy.

There is no new writing here, as Foley contrives through sound to embellish the original and then later, in a power cut, takes on some lines to help the others. In particular, she sings Polly Garter's elegiac song for Willy Wee ("who is dead, dead, dead"), breaking down as she does so and giving us a clue to what might have been in that letter.

The cast of three make their own unlikely community, with Williams forcefully hampering Foley's gleeful, drunken sabotaging of the sound effects, and Jones taking a more maternal, caring approach, offering sweets and covering her shoulders with her coat.

It takes time to build into this dynamic, but once the three knit together, it's an affecting reworking in a performance space intimate enough to be a radio studio. Gwilym and Stewart give an energetic interpretation of the original, while Pring spikes it with a wonderfully impish, helpless charm. Dylan Thomas, you sense, would have approved.


Elisabeth Mahoney

The GuardianTramp

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