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Under Milk Wood - A Radio Play at The Loft

Under Milk Wood at The Loft Theatre.

A radio play by Dylan Thomas at the Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa from Saturday 30 March to Saturday 6 April. Directed by David Fletcher.

Review by Maxine Burns


Seventy years ago the BBC commissioned a play which was first broadcast in January 1954. This was Under Milk Wood, by the Welsh Poet, Dylan Thomas. Thereafter there was a film, starring Elizabth Taylor and the acclaimed Welsh actor, Richard Burton. It then found new life as a stage play.

To honour this milestone the Loft Theatre have transformed the stage into a 1950’s recording studio to perform a reading of the play, transporting the audience back in time to the very first live transmission.

The cast gather and chatter amongst themselves, pulling together to become the villagers of the fictional village of Llareggub (Read it backwards!). Then night falls over the village and Thomas’s magic words begin.

‘To begin at the beginning, it is spring, moonless night in the small town. Starless and bible black’

As night moves through the village the narrator invites us into the houses of the villagers who sleep on unaware that their dreams, thoughts and secret desires are being tapped into and broadcast to the audience. The inhabitants weave their way through each other’s lives as they sleep and dream.

Characters and cast of the Loft's 14 strong team (plus the sound effects man)

The 14 strong theatre company take on Thomas’s cast of characters with gusto and humour as the narrator introduces them and we get a glimpse of small-town life in a provincial Welsh village in the 50’s. The likes of Willy Nilly, the postman who delivers the post, even in his sleep, and opens the mail so he can relay any gossip around the village.

Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, the guesthouse owner whose two husbands, even in death, even in dreams, conspire together to kill this woman who made their living lives hell. They appear throughout the play listing the chores (with great humour!) their wife made them perform during their miserable lives.

No good boyo, the young, lazy fisherman who causes trouble with the girls in the wash house.

The village becomes a dark, very old character and the characters fly in and out of each other’s dreams. Dawn inches through the town and we look down on it through the villagers’ eyes, to the five hundred souls who populate it, to the rows of two storey, pinkwashed houses.  A spring morning has arrived.

The shops ‘squeak’ open and lay out the goods for sale. Dylan Thomas brings his sublime voice to describe the scenes. Boats bob along the sea.

We meet Blind Captain Cat in the Sailors Arms. It opens at 11.30 am and is always open as the clock is broken, stuck at 11.30. He sits with his pint and pipe listening to the ghostly voices of the children as they sing. He still mourns the loss of his long dead sweetheart, Rosie Probert, the one love of his life.

The wives gather around the water pump to gossip and laugh. Polly Garter, the village ‘bad’ girl, sings of her long-lost lovers, and of the disdain that is felt for her as an unmarried mother of more than one child. Her mournful songs help her as she cleans the houses of the villagers.

Mr Pugh who poisons his wife with a look and would love to do it for real. He carries his favourite book, ‘The lives of poisoners,’ with a benign cover.

The children of the village play and sing as we learn more of the gossipy housewives who judge as they rip reputations, of the repressed sexuality of the time and the hypocritical attitudes.

Dusk covers Milkwood and the dead come out again, all dressed in their Sunday best for another evening of dreams and regret.

Bringing their characters to life.

The sound effects and musical accompaniments are performed live on stage just as it would have been heard seven decades ago.

Musicians: Martha Allen-Smith – Violin and vocals; Jonathan Fletcher – Guitar/mandolin/vocals; Rosie Pankhurst – accordion/keyboard/vocals; Matthew Salisbury – guitar/ukulele/vocals.

Whilst fans of Dylan Thomas’s work will love this production, others may find some scenes a little difficult. The energy lapses occasionally and this is a play which needs to be performed with much energy. However, there is much to commend it and Dylan Thomas’s love of his homeland is apparent throughout the play, despite his apparent disdain of the ‘goosy wives and hypocrisy rife in the village life.

For tickets call 01926 830680 or visit:



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