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Under Milk Wood

Malvern Theatres Youth Company


Dylan Thomas’ best known title is presented by the talented youth at Malvern’s festival theatre before the production goes to the Edinburgh Fringe next week.

Under Milk Wood is a poetic evocation of the life of a small Welsh village with its typical array of local characters in their ordinary and very human lives, attitudes and relationships. It is not driven by a central plot but by the colourful characters and their distinctive way of communicating.

The wonderfully expressive, poetic language is the essential appeal – though there is a clear shape to the work. We begin at night, in the early hours. The villagers are all asleep but dreaming. First, we hear Captain Cat, blind and dreaming of his dead shipmates who are themselves dreaming. We then meet other villagers. Time passes and the play takes us through the morning, the afternoon, evening and we return to night and the dreams once again.

This lyrical piece is marvellous poetry and requires the best in expressive delivery and use of the voice. Here this production excels. From the moment the play opens with the narrators - Voices One, Two and Three – Emily Henry, Roma Farrell and Jennifer Thompson-Chatburn - deliver the words with great clarity, enunciation and projection. Throughout the evening they move in and out of the action commenting expressively on the characters and their lives.

Rhys Harris Clarke is a central character as Captain Cat. He communicates his anguish, pains and frustrations very effectively and acts as a bit of a hinge around which the other characters operate.

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The other actors all perform more than one character. Jason Johns, as The Reverend Eli Jenkins, Ben Mowbray particularly as Mr Waldo and Willy Nilly were strong in their characterisation.

Lizzie Jones played the parts of Polly Garter, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, and Mrs Willy-Nilly amongst others. She added her excellent singing voice to her performance very movingly, sometimes singing while recumbent on the floor.

Alina Allison is a graceful Rosie Probert and Mrs Pugh amongst other parts. Zoe Hutton, Lexi Henry, Daniel Davis and Sean Merrick complete an excellent ensemble cast where there were no weak links.

The decision to perform this in the round brings the characters, the action and their struggles close to us as an audience; the almost complete absence of set, props or stage furniture puts the accent on the acting and the clear delivery of the words. Lighting, choreography and elements of physical theatre provide extra dramatic value to the performance, as do the light sound effects playing in the background.

As ever the combination of talented young actors and the professional team directing, designing, and managing the show is a brilliant and successful formula. The show is going to Edinburgh next week and runs at Malvern to Friday, 9 August.

Timothy Crow


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