Un­der Milk Wood

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Mark Fisher

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

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