The final night of the Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia Festival culminated in a collage of Welsh voices, brought to life by a powerhouse cast, led fantastically by the inimitable Owen Teale. It’s no surprise Terry Hands’ Under Milk Wood on Sunday night played to a sold out crowd. From fresh-faced youngsters to venerated artists like Sir Ian McKellen, many gathered in order to see and hear the many stories of Llareggub’s inhabitants brought to life.
The thirteen actors juggled their multiple roles with grace. The subtle haunted hunches of dead Mr. Ogmore and dead Mr. Pritchard (Simon Nehan and Richard Elfyn respectively) stood in sharp contrast to their counterparts – the poetical Reverend Eli Jenkins and meek Mr. Pugh. In actress Sophie Melville we see Gossamer Beynon and Mrs. Dai Bread Two; opposite sides of the same coin of femininity. Polly Garter’s dulcet, mournful song inhabits the same body as obsessive Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard; who dreams each of torturing her two dead husbands.
There is no weak link, each actor brings their slew of characters to the forefront, not letting them bleed into one another. In brief moments character is broken; the actors smile at each other, or can’t help but laugh. These moments do not detract from the magic; they enhance it. The audience is reminded that life Under Milk Wood is a dream, fragile and beautiful and tremulous.
All the characters are led through the meandering plot with the guidance of Owen Teale and Christian Patterson, as First and Second Voices respectively. Teale’s mastery of Thomas’ language is apparent. His command over each tongue-tripping syllable allows the audience to truly understand the significance of each character’s life. As an ensemble, the cast brings out the beauty and poetry of daily life. It is this often-overlooked splendour that Thomas ekes out in his works.
In Under Milk Wood the patchwork of voices may seem disjointed at first, but as the play winds along it becomes clear that each life in Llareggub is intertwined. The most mournful moment of all is Captain Cat’s napping dream lament for dead Rosie Probert. It is the perfect blend of sweet and sad, full of longing and resignation.
Terry Hands’ staging helps bring action and liveliness to the performance. From hooting owls to ticking clocks, all sound effects are provided by the cast. They run, scamper, kiss, argue, mourn – all with unparalleled energy. As Owen Teale narrates their lives, the characters make their way through their day. The sun sets on Llareggub, and once again the world awakes for dreams. The audience leaps to its feet in applause and amidst the metronome of clapping hands, time passes. Listen. Time passes.