Under Milk Wood | Free Association

Under Milk Wood | Free AssociationOriginally a play for radio, Under Milk Wood was written by the late, great Dylan Thomas in 1953. It was broadcast for the first time on BBC Third Programme two months after Thomas’s death in 1954. Under Milk Wood boasts a phenomenal amount of characters for a play, 50 in fact, and though this interpretation was a small production tackled by a mere six actors, Free Association did a stellar job in re-producing this classic play for voices.

The venue chosen to host this production could be included in the list of props. The old weather beaten wharf at Walsh Bay’s newest cultural precinct, home to Australian Theatre For Young People, made the perfect stage with which to showcase Under Milk Wood.

Set in an imaginary small, seaside town, the audience is taken into the story via narration provided by the cast. Each of the cast members seamlessly assumed the role of narrator-character in rounds, which was a clever tactic adopted by Director Luke Butler as it created a feeling of anticipation. The ‘narrator’ exposed all the secret thoughts, dreams and musings of the more colourful of the town’s fictitious villagers. Narrative then segued into moments in time in the life of characters like Captain Cat, Organ Morgan or Polly Garter to name a mere few.

The stage, as designed by Lily Donovan, was embellished with few props and those props along with the handmade calico costumes worn by all the cast and musicians gave the setting an antique appearance. Smoke haze drifting across the stage and beyond mimicked a mythical salty sea spray mist adding another dimension to the atmosphere. In Thomas’s original radio show, the soundtrack was written by a composer, Free Association acknowledged this and incorporated a musical score and musicians into their production.

The script was assembled like a patchwork quilt, one you would be sure to find on many of the beds in fabled Milk Wood. Though it would be a patchwork quilt sporting very fine needlework. The dialogue was of Shakespearean proportions in the delivery, and at various points it seemed as if an Elizabethan public trial were taking place onstage.

The dynamism of the interchange between characters was enough to make one wonder how an actor can remember all those words, in that order, at that speed! This in itself is one of the major feats of this play, successfully grappling with the verbosity of Under Milk Wood without any slip-ups whilst adding emotional tone to each and every inflection.

All of the six actors displayed an acute agility in the art of disguise. Taking on a new character a minute (just about) they ducked and weaved and darted their way into various characters until they eventually inhabited all of the peculiar townsfolk. The frenetic pace of the play gave it a schizophrenic tone that aptly suited this infamous work. For the duration of the play, which was of epic proportion, each and every moment was filled with engaging theatre.

This ensemble of actors consisting of Anna Martin, Shaun Martindale, George Kemp, Alyssan Russell, Lydia Sarks and Joel Pieterse managed to assimilate a large collection of tales about the trivialities of daily life into a well-executed, cohesive, singular kooky story.

Free Association presents
Under Milk Wood
by Dylan Thomas

Venue: The Australian Theatre for Young People, Pier 4/5, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay
Dates: 2nd – 12th September 2009
Bookings: www.atyp.com.au or 9720 2400

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