Ken Longworth | Under Milk Wood in Wollombi

UNDER MILK WOOD: Sophie Cook and Roisin Pengally in Valley Artists' production of the Dylan Thomas classic.
UNDER MILK WOOD: Sophie Cook and Roisin Pengally in Valley Artists' production of the Dylan Thomas classic.

WHEN Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was in his late teens he spent a winter night in a small coastal town in the west of the country. To get some exercise, he went for a walk around the town at sunrise the next morning and was fascinated by the colourful collection of residents he encountered, either strolling or on house verandas.

Thomas subsequently put some of them into his verse, wrote a short story about the town, and began developing a radio play set in a similar burg. The completed play, Under Milk Wood, sadly, was broadcast by the BBC in January, 1954, two months after Thomas died at age 39 from pneumonia while working on the play with stage actors in New York.

Under Milk Wood has been a very popular work with actors and audiences in the more than 60 years since. It shows a day in the life of the people in a Welsh fishing village, with a diverse collection of 57 characters, who are a mix of current residents and people from their past whom they recall while going about their activities.

And the town’s name, Llareggub, is a reversal of the term “bugger all”, reflecting the work’s bright comic nature.  

Wollombi-based theatre company Valley Artists is staging Under Milk Wood at Laguna Hall for seven 8pm performances between March 30 and April 7. The production has a cast of 15 actors who play up to seven characters each during the two hour-long halves. And that’s a challenge for the performers who have to make quick costume changes offstage before returning as very different people.

The characters, for example, include: Captain Cat, an old blind sea captain who dreams of his deceased shipmates and lost lover; Mrs Organ Morgan, a shop owner who dreams of “silence”  as she is disturbed during the day by her husband’s constant organ playing; Lord Cut-Glass, a man of questionable sanity who dreams of the 66 clocks he keeps in his house, all telling different times; Nogood Boyo, a lazy young fisherman who dreams of “nothing”, though he increasingly fantasises about a woman in a wet corset; and Bessie Bighead, a hired help who dreams of the one man who kissed her “because he was dared”.

Director Janine Oliver is pleased with the characterisations of her cast members, who include an 11-year-old girl. And she has enjoyed handling the challenges of adapting the work for the stage, with her team putting together an impressive set that suggests settings ranging from fishing boats to elegant mansions.

Go to valleyartists.org for performance dates and bookings.

Tickets ($30, concession $25) can also be bought at Wollombi General Store, 4998 3230, and Great Northern Trading Post, 4998 8244.

Oscar-winning songs

WITH the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony beginning at noon Monday Newcastle time, readers will soon know which musical number has won in the best new song category.

The winners since the category was introduced in 1934 to mark the growth in numbers and quality of songs in film musicals have included many memorable songs, with the first winner being The Continental, which was sung by Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee.

The quality of the songs will be shown when Adamstown Arts holds a Sing Along to the Shows concert called The Songs that Won the Oscars in the intimate Dungeon venue at Adamstown Uniting Church on Saturday, March 24, at 2pm.

The celebration of the Oscar-winning songs will include, among other numbers, Thanks for the Memory, Mona Lisa, Never on Sunday, Moon River, Secret Love, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, catchy songs from Disney movies, and many more. The words will be provided for all the songs, with the singing led by local theatre performers and pianist Philip Sketchley accompanying.

Entry is $10, including afternoon tea, with tickets available at the door. Proceeds from the show will go to Camp Breakaway, which provides respite care for high-needs children and adults, and their families. 

BURLESQUE GF

THE Sing Along to the Shows concert will be part of an engaging weekend for Hunter theatre events, with the grand finale of the 2018 Australian Burlesque Idol competition held as part of the Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival at Weston Workers Club at 7.30pm on Friday, March 23, with the seven winners of heats held around the nation, including Newcastle, showing their skills. Tickets $20; bookings 4936 1909.