Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Dylan magic in need of discipline

Under Milk Wood

Stage 2

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


THIS is the most difficult judgment I have had to express about this wonderfully talented group of young people in more than a quarter of a century of being enchanted by performance after performance, production after production.

It is not just that there was too much action in the aisles, repeatedly distracting from what was happening on the stage and frequently appearing to be undisciplined.

 No, the problem for me – and I realise that I may well have been the only member of the audience to whom it applied – was that one school-age member of the ten-strong group of Voices providing the narration for this Dylan Thomas classic was so self-aware on the first night that she became a pain in the proverbial, both in the stage-right aisle and when her group moved to the area immediately in front of the stage.

She fidgeted, she flung her arms about, she grabbed a fisherman's line – though this may have been on director's orders – and she gazed fixedly into the audience before moving off, chin high, at the final curtain. Earlier, when the group was on the side balcony, she was the one who was dodging about, leaning over and generally ensuring that she was noticed.


 Unfortunately, there were times when at least two members of the audience sitting in row-end seats had no option but to notice her, because her position in the aisle gave her the chance at different moments to thrust her face into theirs – and she took it without hesitation.

If she reads this, she won't like it. I hope, however, that she will eventually realise it is for her own good. She has to become a team player, and if she cannot do it already, she has to learn to accept adverse criticism because it is for her own good. It is something she owes to her friends – and to herself. This apart, she clearly has the makings of becoming an excellent actress.

Meanwhile, this is a four-star production in which Welsh accents come triumphantly to the fore to top-dress nearly 30 splendidly-defined characters as we share a day in the life of Llaregyb. One of many magical moments comes with the line in which one of the many “dead” characters confesses that he came to a bad end – “very enjoyable.”

It is a shame that no one is credited with designing the street-scene set, with all those windows at various levels at which one or other of the townspeople appears, often to humorous effect. And it was odd, in the immediate wake of Iceland's volcano, to hear someone say, “There's great clouds billowing again.” Let's hope not.

To 24.4.10.

John Slim Box office: 0121 643 5858


The above review drew some comments which are featured below:

Standing up for the cast

JUST read the review on Behind the Arras and we have no problems at all with negative reviews and criticism, but I do feel this is weighted a bit heavily against one of our kids. Out of 26 lines, 20 are devoted to criticising one very young girl's performance.  

I know we are on a level playing field for reviews with amateur adult companies and even professionals and we consistently put ourselves out there with our print, press releases and profile. I always want our kids to understand the wider world and the wider profession; they need to take the rough with the smooth and be robust. I also understand completely it is totally out of order and unprofessional to comment on a review, but I hope you can appreciate where I am coming from in this unusual instance. 

However I have never before seen a review where it focused so much on one person, particularly one who wasn't the lead. My main issue though is that we had consciously directed her to do that:  all the moves in the aisles were choreographed and set on purpose (dead characters in the sea, looking out at the Village).

Admittedly we did tell her to tone it down a bit after she got carried away with the excitement of the first night, but we still did not see it as a huge problem or even as an anomaly when compared to the other Voices. Therefore it is much more our fault than hers. She was actually doing just what she had been told - ironically more than many of the others were!  

Obviously John Slim can only comment on what he sees (and maybe he saw things we didn't) but the other difficult thing for us is that she is actually a huge team player - she learnt her lines first and has been a really solid backbone to the whole play throughout the whole process. I would be grateful if the piece could be removed or re-edited to reflect the criticism being more directed at the professionals who asked her to perform like that and didn't rein it in enough, as I feel this is where any “fault” lies.  

I do hope you understand the spirit that this email is written in. We are eternally grateful for everything you have done and do for us and we hope to have you review our shows for as far as the eye can see! I just wanted to clarify that this is our fault and our responsibility.

From Liz Light, Director, Stage 2; and Lucy Bailey, Director, Under Milk Wood


JOHN SLIM writes: As I said, this was the most difficult judgment I have ever had to express in many years of reviewing. What any reviewer writes is the personal view of just one person, and I am afraid that once I have committed myself I cannot decide to come up with a different opinion. A review is intended to be am honest report on how a production appeared to the writer.

 In this case, I am sure that my awareness of what was happening in the aisle was heightened by the fact that this was the aisle right alongside my seat. As an outsider, I always seek to be helpful, but in this case, I was clearly wrong in assuming that the young lady concerned was ignoring what she had been told – though I am pleased to learn that she did subsequently carry less flamboyance. I assumed she was flouting the direction that she must have been given and I hoped that if she found that those wise words were now being supported by a total stranger she might think that perhaps there was something in them after all. 

She is clearly talented: I simply had fears that if what I was seeing was what she really  is, life might well not go as smoothly as it might otherwise do, either for herself or for her close associates, in whatever sphere.


Another view from the stalls

I HAVE recently read John Slim's review of Stage2's production of Under Milk Wood, Liz Lights's response and his reply. I am concerned that he feels it is appropriate for an amateur child actor to be given far more negative feedback than any adult professional actor would receive. He has singled out one young member of the company for some really unnecessary criticism and have ignored the rest of the excellent production. I have written my own review of the play and would be grateful if it is posted it in the letters section.

This is my review.

Stage2 has produced yet another gem of a production. Under Milk Wood is truly an ensemble piece in all respects where the while community of LLaregyb comes vividly to life in a piece that is charming and beautifully staged. There are strong performances from many and the whole cast support each other well owing to the group ethos of the company.  

It is probably unfair to single out individual actors as this is very much a ensemble piece but Layla Shirley charmed as Polly Garter and provided some wistful and moving musical reflections on her lot in life. The school children were spirited and playful, singing with gusto and clearly relishing their cruel kissing game. Capt Cat's troubled past was reflected in some moving set pieces and his past love affair tenderly portrayed by some sensitive acting form Gareth Cadogan and Chloe Jones.  

The Welsh accents, whilst occasionally a little lost, were rendered very effectively on the whole and the piece engaged and enthralled the audience throughout. The inclusion of The Voices – the ghosts of those who have died at sea – offered a perfect frame to the action on stage and the enthusiasm mixed with sensitivity of these voices helped to capture the audience's imagination and guide us skillfully through the story.
Lucy Bailey has added successfully to the Stage2 canon and proved that she is a director worthy of continuing the fantastic Stage2 tradition of excellence!

Andrea Dowsett  



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