Under milk wood. Northern stage. 6.11.18

As he continues to grow in stature it feels ironic that Dylan Thomas’s prevailing literary legacy becomes less about his choice of words and instead more about his willingness to trust his readers.

A role model for fearless writers, unconcerned with external perceptions, Thomas is often held as the master in how to create a legacy as a poet; say what you mean, mean what you say, and allow others the freedom to interpret how they chose.  In this context, trust is the key requirement in pushing art forward and allowing it to be re-evaluated and re-contextualised.

Yet whilst trust is one of humankind’s most inclusive behaviours it also creates room for interesting, and slightly difficult to deal with, choices; in Thomas’s case perhaps seen in a readers’ way of interpreting his work, or how a directorial team decide to stage his plays.  For artists with a clearly defined message, trust may not always be beneficial.

Not shy of adding long, rarely used, words ‘Under Milk Wood’ is perhaps one of Thomas’s most complex pieces, itself perhaps a symbol for the virtue of hard work and perseverance.   Laced with hidden meanings, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it symbolisms, it makes large requests of it’s readers to concentrate and keep-up, ultimately rewarding them with a glorious pay off.  What it perhaps doesn’t need is further complexion.

Choosing to stage Under Milk Wood with two actors playing the parts of the 20 plus characters, and using multimedia elements to support the story, the Northern Stage production feels both brave and a lesson in over complication.  Difficult to follow in places, with Thomas’s language itself being a natural barrier to entry, the use of multi-character actors and multimedia (vinyl recordings, projections, interactive live cameras) took away from, rather than added to, the productions ability to allow the audience access into its key themes.  Well-acted, interestingly staged and technically innovative it feels a shame that the brave risks actually overcomplicated a story grounded in the simple message that many of us who believe in the American/British dream will ultimately be broken by it’s lack of security.

A brave attempt at a new interpretation of his work, it would be interesting to hear what Thomas would say now about trust and his openness in letting others have freedom to interpret his work.

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