January 1954. Switch on the wireless. Mild Winter. Tune in. There is Under Milk Wood. Still dealing with the repercussions of war, and in a society that remained cocooned within tight local structures and values, imagine being lyrically transported to the village of Llaregyb. The dreams, the day, the dusk, the night, the voices. These are our neighbours. This is their reality. We know them, they know us. Curtains twitching. Conversations over hedges. The crucible of the local pub. The cacophony of communities surviving the drudge of day in, day out. Wales.
Under Milk Wood is notoriously difficult to do. As are Welsh accents. Dylan Thomas is rightly celebrated for his powerhouse linguistic diversity, his earthiness, and his ability to convey simple reality in a mesmerizingly complex way.
There are a few ways that Directors David Balfour and Michele Arkle could have gone with this Lyndhurst Drama and Musical Society production. They could have brought the voices up from the forward stage for interaction with the picnic crowd or staged it in the round to bring a similar feel. Their choice was to build the link back to 1954. A quasi approximation of a radio recording with vibrant costumes and a suggestion of place in a simple effective contained set. The restriction of the wonderfully large cast to a tiered platform emphasised how village life is a life in each other’s pocket. It made it close, tight, warm. It didn’t always make it that easy for the cast to gain a sense of place for their characters unless they were lucky enough to have a boat or be in the smallest pub in Wales.
Then again, Under Milk Wood is more experiential than visual. Lyndhurst have nailed that here. Driving to the Walled Gardens cleverly replicates being transported into an enclosed community. Warm summer nights favour life and laughter. Jennifer Lane’s grounds are magical. I have never seen picnickers serve an interval course of cheese and biscuits. With grapes. I thought I was doing well with a pork pie and mustard. This is the interlock of the audience and Under Milk Wood. We are making unconscious judgements in the same way as the villagers of LLaregyb. We are them. On the A35.
The cast are fabulous in threading all the complicated cues together, especially as the play necessitates long gaps between one cue and the next. I am sure there is a temptation to nod off. Each actor plays multiple roles and brings a unique character and mannerism. It feels very much like they had a freer hand to craft this which makes it organic. Their commitment and quality are at the hub as to why this production works. All voices in one place. Congratulations to all.
This is a thoughtful, elegant experience from Lyndhurst. I am impressed that the Society continues to push boundaries and challenge the audience and themselves. In Under Milk Wood it is a combination of voices and setting that drift to contentment as the camping chairs are carried back to the boot of the car.
Under Milk Wood is on tonight – Saturday 16 July – pop into Llaregyb. Know thy neighbour. Take dessert.