Under Milk Wood, in a day – Salli Belsham’s review

(see also Mike Thomas’ review)

Radio Script : “Under Milk Wood – from Scratch in a Day”

ANNO: Our reporter Salli Belsham sent us this review of “Under Milk Wood – from Scratch in a Day”.

VOICE: On the 3rd of July 14 intrepid thesps made their way to Milton Keynes Village Hall (That’s Milton Keynes Village – Hall, not Milton Keynes – Village Hall and nowhere near the shopping centre!) for an encounter with Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood”. We were asked to bring lunch and dinner and ourselves. Tea and coffee would be provided, and we arrived to be greeted by many old and new friends, already drinking said tea and coffee. Unfortunately, just as the afternoon threatened to turn into a party Jeremy called us to order round the table in the main hall.

There was a mild air of the exam room, as we each collected our script and three page long list of parts, with A5 addendum and marker pen and settled ourselves at the tables. Jeremy explained that he did not mind if we used welsh accents or not. He said, and we all later agreed, it was easy to say a short sentence with a welsh accent than a full paragraph. Experience showing that the accent tended to wander off into Hindustani after a couple of sentences. Barbara Evans Rees was appointed Welsh accent monitor (with a name that welsh you must have some authority!) with “final say on all pronunciation including the name of the fictional welsh town “Llareggyb””. Elise Thomas also helped us with pronunciation..

Jeremy had obviously been working very hard to get the play prepared for our presentation. As he explained, he had spent the best part of three days devising ways to allocate the some 71 parts fairly among an unknown number of participants, only to decide it wouldn’t work. Instead he decided to use “The Method”.

As Dylan Thomas makes it clear who each speaker is from the context, parts were allocated on a rotational basis, taking into account only the sex of the speaker, that is “The Method”. Can you imagine wheels of two different diameters revolving at different speeds? Well if you can you have some idea of “The Method”, but you have to take into account that some parts had to be allocated to specific people willing to sing (!) and so the wheels would stop spinning occasionally, whilst they were fitted in. In fact it was so difficult to execute that even its inventor needed an occasional hand from the actors to get it right. Everyone had to write down the name of the person doing the character in each scene, to ensure they could find the right people to rehearse with. Woe betide the person whose pencil lead broke, you’d have to brave the wrath of teacher and crib from your neighbour.

“The method” was relatively fair, but we all soon got to know that, whatever happened, it would be Alex who was first voice in all the scenes. This allowed us to practice chanting in unison, which was useful later. However, as we discovered during the afternoon, by cunningly missing out a couple of the speaking parts from his great list, Jeremy managed to have some speeches in reserve. This did improve the fairness of “The Method” but did not help the confused actors; some parts, which had been swapped for fairness, were then passed back. It’s a pity you can’t rub out marker pen.

Parts allocated, we were then entreated to check and mark our scripts up thoroughly, as we would not have a full rehearsal before the performance. The aim being that the full effect of the play would be almost as new to the actor as the audience. Sounds like a good idea, no? Scripts apparently marked we broke for lunch.

Then followed a period of relative anarchy as each performer strove to find the others in their scene, and hang onto them long enough to rehearse that scene, and find somewhere to rehearse as well. This was punctuated by a more ordered rehearsal of some of the more complicated scenes. There was some muttering of, “Oh that’s my speech is it”, “Oh that speech is well hidden”, “Oh I’m in this scene twice – who’s got the marker pen?” Jeremy was by now realising that leaving the marking up of scripts to us unreliable thesps might not be a good idea, but more of that later.

Have you ever tried to get women to agree on how to chant a skipping verse in unison (don’t even think about the welsh accent or the need to speak as if a child) – well the final solution was to revert to childhood and skip the song – and it worked, now there’s method acting for you. After this it was clear that the only way we were going to get unison on the other children’s song was to leave it in the sure hands of Jeremy to perform solo. Beautifully performed too.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, during the afternoon Jeremy had got the idea that we might not be most reliable markers up of our own scripts and a remedy was called for. It turned out to feel a bit like a modern art installation, where the house is filled with concrete then the outside walls removed. Instead of running through the script we were to shout out the name of the character we were speaking in each scene. Goodness knows what a passer by might have thought to hear a chorus of “Willy Nilly, – Mrs -, Willy Nilly, Mrs-, Mrs Ogmore Pritchard, Mrs, oh is that me! Polly Garter, Mae Rose Cottage, oh we both say that”. Is this a new version of “Mornington Crescent”?

So it was nearly time to perform, with just a few last minute arrangements to make. The first speaker practised getting the audiences’ attention, we all practised turning script pages in unison on the last sentence on each page, and we lined up to make sure we could all file into our places neatly and without fuss. Jeremy asked us all to turn our scripts to page 2 so that we would not rustle during the first speech and with that we were set free from the exam room to have our evening meal.

Whether due to innate generosity or nerves the mountain of food provided to share for supper would have fed two or three times the number present and we did consider dragooning the audience in to finish the food. The facilities at the Hall in Milton Keynes Village were excellent with some professional ovens that worked very quickly to heat up our quiches and pizzas.

The Headmaster then let us know that he had turned all scripts to page two that should have already been turned to page two already! Never trust an actor.

And finally it was time to perform (the audience having found the venue). It all went very smoothly, we had managed finally to mark up our scripts properly, or if they weren’t I didn’t notice. There were some lovely welsh accents, the ladies skipped in unison, the effects were in the right places, John managed the poem with all the welsh names in it with aplomb, and Dick sang the drunken song of Mr Waldo beautifully, and no one winced when I sang too. I don’t think we ever all quite agreed on how to pronounce the name of the town “Llarreggub”, but in the end it felt like we had taken an exhilarating journey, made the town come to life and come to appreciate the poetry of Dylan Thomas. The shiver that went up my spine in the last speech really said it all for me.

Thank you in particular to Jeremy for organising the event and to all the participants for making it a most enjoyable, happy, friendly and exhilarating day. If you weren’t there you missed a fantastic experience – don’t miss the next one, what is the next one? [FADES] When’s the next one? Has anyone heard of the radio plays of David Pownell or how about some Shakespeare or ……………………………………[OUT]

(see also Mike Thomas’ review)