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Review: Under Milk Wood

Go, let yourself be transported to the Welsh town of Llareggub, and see Cambridge in a new light on the way out


‘The hands of the clock have stayed still at half past eleven for fifty years.’

It seems as though time stops in this stage production of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ 1954 radio drama. The constant coming and going of the actors on and off the stage, the cyclical structure and the hypnotic rhythm of Thomas’ language, all create a soothing and calm atmosphere. With our fast-paced student life and the everchanging structure of our cities around us, it was strangely comforting to immerse myself in the unchanging, quirky lives of the people of Llareggub.

Set in the fictional Welsh fishing village of Llareggub, named because read backwards it spells… well, you can work that out – we follow the lives of the inhabitants over a 24-hour period. The Narrator, fabulously played by Jay Palombella, takes us into the dreams, lives and secrets of the villagers- it really is an all-seeing experience. The rhythm of the Narrator’s words always seems to push the action onwards, and there are perfectly timed changes in lighting (coordinated by Phoebe Morse) that add a constant flow to the production.

Image Credit: Lottie Wood and Tilly Aldridge

The action on stage is very well directed by Sophie Rayner and Rosie Parrish, and does not seem to stop. It is quite impressive how each of the actors changes character so quickly, playing multiple villagers, in what sometimes seems to be constant traffic onto and off the stage. There are some quick changes in costume and each actor is able to change persona quickly, putting on different accents and often playing contrasting characters. Whilst the cross-gender, shapeshifting casting makes it difficult to follow individual characters at first, as the play goes on, it adds to the tight-knitted community feeling that I got for the village.

After all, the village is nothing special- even the inhabitants recognise that. But what characterises many of the people of Llareggub is a love for their village anyways, reflecting Thomas’ love for his country of Wales. The Reverend (one of the characters played by Nathaniel Kemp) even highlights that he wishes to ‘never, never leave this town’- I am curious to see how many people would say that about Cambridge.

Image Credit: Lottie Wood and Tilly Aldridge

The staging is simple but works well. The theme of dreams was explored through the bedsheets that hang across the space and drape onto a box in the centre. This acts as a table or a bed at different points. The passage of time is shown by the changing of this central structure, with a fantastic sequence of scenes during which the actors take off a tablecloth at a time.

The staging is simple but works well. The theme of dreams was explored through the bedsheets that hang across the space and drape onto a box in the centre. This acts as a table or a bed at different points. The passage of time is shown by the changing of this central structure, with a fantastic sequence of scenes during which the actors take off a tablecloth at a time.

Overall, I thought that the emotional range of the play was conveyed really well. There was humour and sadness and intensity. Moments such as Mrs Benyon’s (Harriet Haylock) distress when she is told by the Butcher (Alex Velody) that she is eating a butchered cat were particularly well portrayed. I got a good sense of all the characters, and particularly enjoyed Organ Morgan (played by Joe Morgan) who frustrates his wife (Jules Coyle) by (you guessed it!) constantly playing the organ, and mistakes a fellow villager for Bach.

I walked out of the theatre with a new appreciation for the things that make people different and interesting. Just like in Llareggub, there are interesting and wildly unique people that make up university life here in Cambridge, and this production made me wonder how Dylan Thomas would approach writing a play about the city we all study in.

4/5

Under Milk Wood is showing at Pembroke New Cellars at 9:30 pm from the 7th – 11th of February. Tickets are now sold out.