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Universal foibles

Under Milk Wood

By Dylan Thomas

The Wales Theatre Company tour

Director Michael Bogdanov says the world's best radio play is very well-suited to the stage and has been successfully produced all over the world, including in Germany and Japan. "There is a universality to the characters; the foibles are recognisable anywhere," he says.

The story of a day in the life of a small Welsh seaside town, based on Laugharne, is told in poetic prose laced with humour. Characters such as the house-proud widow Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, who still gives her dead husbands domestic tasks, the love-sick shopkeepers Myfanwy Price and Mog Edwards who prefer the sound of ringing tills to wedding bells, the Reverend Eli Jenkins, poetic, patriotic and essentially innocent, and Polly Garter who can't help obliging straying husbands and producing yet more babies - these, along with blind seafarer Captain Cat, a host of children and several unconventional marriages, wastrel No-Good Boyo and ghostly tart Rosie Probert inhabit a memorable community full of vitality. They provide a company of actors with endless opportunities for humour and pathos.

Michael Bogdanov says: "The balance of comedy is delicate. Thomas's approach is humane - calling the town Llaregub (bugger all backwards) is the key. He gives extreme eccentricities a strong silhouette, and he is funny in the descriptions and rhythms of small-town analysis of people. But he is very compassionate about their failings."

The main narrator, First Voice, was most famously played by Thomas himself and Richard Burton. Michael Bogdanov has cast Matthew Rhys in the role and encouraged a more naturalistic, less orotund delivery, although he has him sit at a desk, recalling Thomas the writer, the thinker, the imaginator.

As the other narrator, Second Voice, Nia Roberts brings the contrast of a woman's sound. Bogdanov sees her as a reality, a physical presence, against the black and white photograph of the main players, blending in and moving away. Second Voice has much more sensual language. Certainly, it is interesting to have it portrayed through femininity.

A stage director can sometimes add another dimension to the spoken text by choosing to illustrate the words in a straightforward or comic way and Michael Bogdanov makes the most of this. There is, too, a good deal of music in this delightfully fluid production which goes a long way to establish changes in atmosphere.

Under Milk Wood is on tour from January 29 to July 5, 2004. BBC recordings and a film are also available. Further information about Dylan Thomas from the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, where there is an exhibition of the poet's life and work. Tel: 01792 463980

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