Sunday, 20 July 2014

'Under Milk Wood', Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 19/7/14

Cut down to little over an hour this flawed production is indicative of how important the 'Welshness' of the play is.
The director Gareth Nicholls has eschewed any attempt to recreate the Welsh accent and its rhythms which are so vital to any production of Under Milk Wood and has his cast create an almost paint-by-numbers performance. The abridgement by Lyda Radley is also slightly patchy which fails to aid the cast.
Whilst there are a small number of other accents used most of the cast speak in Scottish dialect, and not one Welsh twang is heard. This is increasingly unfortunate as Dylan Thomas himself pointed out the importance of the words to his premiere American cast in the 50s and this production seems to have missed this important fact. It is, after all, a 'play for voices': Rather the director has live music throughout which has the unfortunate effect of often drowning out the actors and whilst Michael John McCarthy's original score is nice it does intrude upon the play. In fact it's almost as if the director had little trust in Thomas' writing. Nicholls' ignoring of the rhythmic value of the Welsh accent was also detrimental to what was heard - it lost much humour and pathos in the performance although, credit to Thomas' writing, some humour was still present if it was the of the more obvious type. The Scots dialect has quite a different quality to the sing-song of Southern Welsh and this quality was sorely missing. As with the writing of Shakespeare the rhythm os the writing is important and to ignore it is to a productions cost.
Another bug-bear of mine was in the pronunciation of the Welsh words: Indeed, upon hearing 'Llareggub' pronounced 'Laregub' (emphasis on the 'e') constantly I was getting more and more irritated. There really is no excuse not to be able to pronounce these words as the famous Richard Burton recordings are readily available as a reference. Rather it spoke of a lazy attitude towards authenticity on the part of the director.
Charlotte Lane's design, which consisted of the interior of the Sailor's Arms - and nothing else, was pleasant but had the unfortunate effect of placing every event in the play within the confines of the pub. That and the fact that every character was plied with drink throughout gave a rather bad impression that this was a town full of alcoholics and given that hundreds of empty glass bottles were used as border to the set this was confirmed. The concept of setting the entire thing within the physical confines of the local was a little confusing given that most of the play happens in other locations around Llareggub.
On a more positive note there were some nice performances including those given by Grant McDonald, Matt Littleson and Jacqueline Thain and the live band were really quite good.
All in all this was rather a bit of a missed opportunity. It would also have been appreciated if the production was advertised as an abridged version but this was not so in any of the advertising.

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