Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood is the quintessential play for voices, packed with adjectives, alliteration and an astonishing array of extraordinary characters. In its original form as a radio play, it presents a darkly humorous challenge to our imagination. It is often read from the stage and it has been memorably filmed. Now, Independent Ballet Wales has produced a new and superbly creative interpretation that matches the words with dance, ballet, physical theatre and specially composed music.
As the narrator moves about the stage, eight young dancers – four women and four men – re-create the actions of a multitude of characters. Miss Myfanwy Price, who is madly in love, and Mr Mog Edwards are poetically portrayed, their innermost thoughts expressed in dance, and words, thanks to their letters having been steamed open by Mrs Willy Nilly, the postman's wife. The Rev Eli Jenkins declares his love of the fictional town of Llareggub in comic verse and movement. The two husbands (both deceased) of Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard go reluctantly, but gracefully, about their tasks. Dai Bread's two wives (both living) try to read their future, while Mr Pugh makes clear his murderous intent toward his icy wife.
The dancing moves fluidly through a range of styles to portray the diversity of events. The characterisation in movement of each of the town's inhabitants is nuanced and the rhythm of the words is beautifully matched by the assured, balanced actions of the dancers.
Equally evocative of the seaside town and its inhabitants is the wonderful new music, composed, orchestrated and partly performed live by Thomas Hewitt Jones. Piano, cello, violin and viola combine in a range of lively musical genres, from classically romantic to jazz. The recurring themes imaginatively help us recall past actions as the play unfolds. There is also sweet singing, with Polly Garter fondly recalling her past loves.
The narration of the play is outstandingly performed by Gwyn Vaughan Jones. He renders the demanding text with great flair, ably capturing the resonance of the rich language and integrating with the dancers as the performance progresses. A final sense of wholeness is provided by the graceful costumes, which finely match both the characters' roles and Jeremy Thomas's elegant back-projections of the imagined town.
Independent Ballet Wales's Under Milk Wood is a wonderfully presented synthesis of many art forms, which authentically showcases the great quality of its young performers.
Professor W Richard Bowen, academic, Swansea
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