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REVIEW: Under Milk Wood at Newcastle Northern Stage

Under Milk Wood
Newcastle Northern Stage
Friday 2nd - Saturday 17th November 2018

A Play for Voices written by Dylan Thomas
Performed with the permission of the Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas
Directed by Elayce Ismail
Cast: Christina Berriman Dawson & David Kirkbride

The BBC radio drama about a day in the life of the inhabitants of the fictional town of Llareggub gets a splendid makeover under the direction of The War of the Worlds director Elayce Ismail at Newcastle’s Northern Stage.

This show is based upon a radio performance and, indeed, it has that feel of a classic BBC Radio 4 radio play. The words and, oh boy, there are a lot of words, wash over the audience in a lyrical soundscape. The revamp is to lose the ‘script in hand’ style of a radio show and to create a visual experience to back up the Dylan Thomas commentary. The two (visual and auditory) elements combine to create a thriving live experience.

The flexible space that is Stage 2 has been organised to arrange the seats on all 4 sides of the central performance space. Sometimes putting a show in the round can result in the action being frequently on the wrong side for one side of the audience. This is not the case here. Elayce Ismail directs a show in which the 2 performers succeed in entertaining everyone.

The visual elements include 2 large screens on opposite sides that show the films from Kris Deedigan that pop up from time to time but they are not permanently there. This is more about the sound and the design from Richard Hammarton has voices and sounds cropping up around the room.  The floor of the performance area is projected upon and cameras above the space also result in some visuals on the side screens. The design from Jen McGinley may look simple enough when you first take your seats but it quickly becomes immersive.

The action starts with dawn. The people of Llareggub are, by and large, sleeping. Voice One and Voice Two are Christina Berriman Dawson and David Kirkbride who take it in turns to build up the picture of the sleepy town with Thomas’s poetic descriptive prowess. A microphone in one corner enables the cast to create some sound effects thus retaining elements of a radio show. As the inhabitants wake up and start to interact Christina and David move around the space and around the audience. Always engaging, the pair succeed in creating a vibrant production.

Thomas’s script involves a large number of characters and, as a fly on the wall, you’re unlikely to keep track on each person – but that doesn’t appear to be the idea. The action feels like a number of lyrical skits as you move from one place to another, occasionally returning for an update. This is a day-in-the-life sketch show.

Hats go off to Christina Berriman Dawson and David Kirkbride for succeeding with such a word-heavy script. Learning it all is an amazing feat in itself. The enthusiastic applause at the end was well deserved.

Under Milk Wood is certainly different. It is, perhaps, more about what you hear, supported by what you see and that is not always the case in theatre. This results in an entertaining live performance that can make you feel positive at the end.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Pamela Raith

Tickets start at £10; for more details or to book tickets see or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.

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