Under Milk WoodUnder Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas’s masterpiece, was not written specifically as a stage play. It has been most successful as a radio play, since the poetry of the language and style of storytelling is more suited to concentrated listening than viewing. However, the stage versions are always popular and this production, directed by Don Mackay, is a new version of the 2005 Australian tour, with two of the four actors, Kirsty Child and Allison Byrne, new to this production.

Under Milk Wood was first performed by Dylan Thomas and three actors in America, and the four-person format is used again in this production. The Comedy Theatre has the atmosphere for this 1930s play about life in a Welsh village, but the squeaky seats made it difficult to catch every word.

Veteran English actor Michael Craig opened the play as the Narrator, but his rich voice was muted and his delivery understated. It is always tempting to throw away lines that are so familiar to audiences, but Thomas’ power is all in the words, so it does not work in his case. When Michael Craig took on the role of Captain Cat, dreaming in his rocking chair, his performance lifted, to become lyrical and nuanced. All the actors took on several roles, with Kirsty Child playing the older women and Allison Byrne the younger ones, and Dion Mills playing most of the other male roles. Child took turns as Narrator, but did not seem comfortable in the static role. The Narrator could perhaps have been given a chair, so that both actor and audience could focus on the monologue.

Mills, who comes from the excellent Red Stitch Theatre, gave the standout performance of the night. He switched from one character to the next in an instant, endowing each with distinct physical and emotional characteristics. One minute he would be the starchy Reverend Eli Jenkins, the next Mr Pugh the would-be wife poisoner, and then Willy Nilly the charming postman. Mills was not afraid to exaggerate, and established his own repertoire of silly walks! If you are going to stage this play as anything more than a reading, this is what you need to do: milk the character descriptions to bring the bizarre story to life. Child’s and Byrne’s performances were good but patchy. Some of their more convincing characters were Byrne’s Polly Garter, the most beddable girl in town (with a delightful singing voice) and Child’s Mrs Ogmore Pritchard, still issuing instructions from her bed to her two husbands, even after they had both died. The Ogmore-Pritchard scene was an especially strong one, with the two men reacting in character to their wife’s demands.

The set and costumes, designed by Jacqueline Lee, were simple and effective. The characters were mostly delineated by the addition of accessories. The set consisted of a door, a window, a table and a rocking chair. The table doubled cleverly as a bed, with the addition of a sheet that started life as washing on the line and a screen for entrances. It all worked efficiently and accentuated the humour.

This is not a definitive version of Under Milk Wood, but is worth seeing for Mills’ performance alone. By the way, the program is substandard, with badly edited text and no central page giving information about the production.

McPherson Touring presents
Under Milk Wood
by Dylan Thomas

Venue: Comedy Theatre, Exhibition St, Melbourne
Dates: Thursday 22 February to Sunday 25 February 2007
Times: Thur 22 Feb at 8pm, Fri 23 Feb at 8pm, Sat 24 Feb at 2pm & 8pm, Sun 25 Feb at 1pm
Bookings: Ticketek  www.ticketek.com.au or 132 849

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