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DYLAN THOMAS: Welsh writer's 'community portrait' play is performed inside libraries

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in performance at Belsize library last weekend

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in performance at Belsize library last weekend

Published: 5 July, 2012

Chalk Farm library witnessed a remarkable performance of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood on Sunday evening, the play having been given in the afternoon at Belsize library.

It was produced by a number of local and theatrically distinguished library users among whom were Elaine Hallgarten, Philippa Jackson, Catherine Arden, Myra Schehtman, and Martin Nelson.

The play was directed by Martin Nelson, who also narrated, and performed by an extraordinarily talented cast of actor/musicians who donated their time and skill for these two occasions.  

Given in two of Camden borough’s former libraries that have now become “community libraries”, the play was billed as “A Community Portrait of a Community”.

The involvement of Primrose Hill School, Primrose Hill Books, and even the audience itself – who were invited to make appropriate scene setting noises (the dawn chorus, sea lapping on the shore, congenial evening sounds at the Sailors’ Arms) – the production invited the full houses (in both venues) to reflect on the character of communities and societies – whether found in a small Welsh village, as in the play itself, or in corners of a metropolis, such as Chalk Farm or Belsize – and the individuals and social relations that make up these communities.

Under Milk Wood is the story of a day in the life of the Welsh village of Llareggub (try reading it backwards) and chronicles snatches of actions and conversations of its residents.

Among these are Captain Cat (the retired sea captain) and Rosie Probert (“the one love of his sea life ... sardined with women”) who, with Sinbad Sailors (the publican of the Sailor’s Arms) frames the village in a wider world, Polly Garter (with her babies, “mothering arms” and sweet memories of all her past and present lovers), the church organist Organ Morgan (especially fond of Bach), Dai Bread and his two wives (one for day and one for night), Nogood Boyo, Mae Rose-Cottage (“seventeen and never been sweet in the grass”), children playing and calling their mums and dads, and a cast of others eminently sane if not saintly people.

It is a life-affirming play that was performed on Sunday in a uniquely inspired and life-affirming way: a rare occasion allowing an audience to capture the sounds, scents, passions, playfulness, and rhythms (both happy and sad – the play was conceived before the end of the Second World War) of a one community.

At a time of big bonuses for bankers, commercialisation of everything, media and political corruption, citizenship “tests”, little England rhetoric – and such nonsensical spiv-designer slogans as “big society” – Under Milk Wood is a powerful reminder about the nature of love, death, social relations, and the sheer artistry and magnificence of what it means to be human.


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