Hopes, fears, secret loves

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood unfolded like a living poem when it opened this week in downtown Red Deer. This odd bit of whimsical theatre, running at the Welikoklad Centre, takes an extraordinary look at life in an “ordinary” Welsh village. Of course, there was nothing remotely typical about Thomas’s fictional setting.

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood unfolded like a living poem when it opened this week in downtown Red Deer.

This odd bit of whimsical theatre, running at the Welikoklad Centre, takes an extraordinary look at life in an “ordinary” Welsh village. Of course, there was nothing remotely typical about Thomas’s fictional setting.

With surreal characters nagging their deceased husbands, or counting sheep resembling their spouse, it clearly wasn’t a realistically peopled, conventional Red Deer College Theatre Studies play that opened on Wednesday night.

Instead, a stage full of blue-cloaked narrators with candles took us on a nighttime tour of the village of Llareggub (‘Bugger all’ spelled backwards).

We saw living and dead characters interacting in dreams.

We met eccentrics — a guesthouse owner who hates taking in guests, a postman who steams open letters so he can spread gossip, a “couple” who only exchange affection in writing, and many others. And we saw their hopes, fears, secret loves, and embarrassing moments play out in their minds.

The second act was more straightforward: Llareggub residents lived out a typical day in their village. But there still wasn’t an easy hook to this play.

With little plot and no conflict to speak of (save for occasional spats between characters), it was easy to disengage from what action there was — especially when Thomas’s poetic lines were not properly heard.

Under Milk Wood started out as a radio drama in 1954, become a 1972 film, and is now a stage play. Despite some interesting visuals in the RDC production, including a slide show of Wales, it should have remained a radio drama in which listeners have to hang on every word, since everything rests on Thomas’s lovely, playful use of descriptive language.

That’s both the reward and the problem with this show, directed by Tom Bradshaw.

There’s a lot of talent in this first-year cast, and the play’s pacing was brisk. But the decision to use 13 narrators instead of two at the beginning just added to the confusion.

Sometimes too much was happening on stage, distracting from the spoken word. And sometimes the first-year actors became too engrossed in the oddball characters they are portraying — they spoke too quickly or unintelligibly.

But when Thomas’s words were clear enough — and this play definitely picked up steam in the second act — there were moments of humour and pathos that transcended his little Welsh village to highlight some universal truths.

For instance, marriage can be maddening. But hopefully, people don’t often dream of offing their spouses, as does Mr. Pugh as he peruses the book Lives of Great Poisoners for helpful hints.

The unending nature of love was also suggested in the play. In a scene involving Captain Cat, the blind old sea captain regularly meets up with his dead true lover, Rosie Probert, in his dreams. Whenever she no longer remembers him, he despairs.

We know her loss pierces his heart each time he awakens when a passing child notices the captain’s tears.

“Time passes, time passes,” chants the chorus in the play. But the dead never leave the living in Llareggub — just as they don’t in Red Deer or anywhere else.

As Rev. Eli Jenkins says in his prayer to God: “O please do keep Thy lovely eye, on all poor creatures born to die. … We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood, and Thou, I know, wilt be the first, to see our best side, not our worst. …”

This play, suitable for lovers of poetry in general, or Dylan Thomas in particular, continues to Saturday.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Who is at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19? Firefighters, drivers, pharmacists, cooks

Central Alberta firefighter says virus taking toll on mental health

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Federal share is approaching $750 million annually, up from $618 million in 2012-13

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

N.S. fire crews continue battling ‘out-of-control’ Porters Lake blaze

Word of the fire first emerged early Saturday afternoon

Technology, representation butt heads amid debate over resuming Parliament

The Liberals are now proposing four meetings a week until June 17

Procession for Snowbirds crash victim makes its way through Halifax

The 35-year-old military public affairs officer and Halifax native died in the crash

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada as of May 23

There are 83,621 confirmed and presumptive cases in Canada

Procession for Snowbirds crash victim to make its way through Halifax today

The military public affairs officer died in the Snowbirds Tutor jet crash in B.C. last Sunday

Employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

Only eight per cent of employers were fully prepared to restart operations, survey finds

Liberals table proposal for expanded Commons COVID-19 meetings, summer sittings

OTTAWA — The Liberals have tabled a proposal that would see expanded… Continue reading

Most Read