Under Milk Wood
Northern Stage, Newcastle Until 17 November
In divided times, there’s something comforting about Dylan Thomas’s day-in-the-life portrait of a Welsh village. It’s not that his radio poem lacks conflict – the fictional Llareggub has its quota of murderous husbands, unrequited lovers and bigamists – it’s just that his authorial voice is non-judgmental. Thomas is a benign observer, wryly describing the townsfolk, their quirks and foibles, but also showing them getting along, more or less. Under Milk Wood is a one-nation celebration of difference that has no interest in taking sides.
Perhaps that’s why director Elayce Ismail thought it worth relocating the dramatic poem to the north-east. In Under Milk Wood, she finds a littleBritain cross-section of seafarers, churchmen and lusty adolescents who could reside in many a coastal community. And in the local accent, as articulated by a sonorous Christina Berriman Dawson and David Kirkbride, Ismail has a fair match for the voice of Thomas’s south Wales.
Staged in the round, it can be too elaborate for its own good. An early introduction of Foley effects works well as the two actors record loops to evoke tides, brushes and church bells. But when Kris Deedigan’s video fills two sides of the room, the images can be distractingly literal.
Head-spinning live projections maintain connection with the drama. Otherwise it’s down to the actors to pull the focus back into the room, which they do with clarity and intelligence. Precisely synchronised with Richard Hammarton’s sophisticated sound design, the actors’ delivery is where the life of the production lies. Generous and good humoured in their homely knitwear, Berriman Dawson and Kirkbride make light work of a dense script, keeping the characters down to earth and letting the language soar.
Sonorous … Christina Berriman Dawson and David Kirkbride