Everyday reality conjured out of magical fiction

Guy Masterson in Under Milk Wood. Photo: supplied
Guy Masterson in Under Milk Wood. Photo: supplied
Under Milk Wood
Fortune Theatre
Saturday, October 8

Reviewed by Helen Watson White 

Helen Watson White
Helen Watson White

To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishing boat-bobbing sea...

Whoever remembers Richard Burton delivering these lines will be grateful to his nephew Guy Masterson for continuing the family tradition.

Under Milk Wood, a "Play for Voices'' by fellow-Welshman Dylan Thomas, evokes an everyday reality out of magical fiction. On Saturday night, Masterson brought that magic here; the audience was rapt, their standing ovation his reward.

In the first radio broadcast of Under Milk Wood in 1958, there were 27 voices, Masterson recounts in an interview (ODT October 1).

In this captivating revival of a play that has taken many forms in different media, his is the only voice, albeit divided among some 69 characters. Dressed in distinctly ordinary pyjamas, with two props, a beer mug and a chair, he enters the sleeping bodies and dreaming heads of people in the seaside town of Llaregyb (or Llareggub - read it backwards).

As they toss and turn in bed, cuddle a spouse, fight private battles, their unexpressed memories, misfortunes and desires are given voice in songs, rhymes and highly poetic prose.

Masterson's animated narration is accompanied by a soundtrack incorporating selected imagery. This suggests a balance that's been worked for: when to admit other senses to the experience, and when to leave the text well alone?

I certainly enjoyed the monstrous night shadows cast by spotlights on the forestage. Both actor and audience relished the theatricality of this performance, the clowning, the suggestiveness, the irony. It's a classic: a day in the life of ordinary folk, conveyed in unforgettable words.

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