UNDER MILK WOOD
reviewed for the Public Reviews
Mercury Theatre Company at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
My first Milk Wood was a purely aural experience, as Thomas intended. My most recent before this was a virtuosic one-man-show.
It's no surprise that more conventional stage adaptations, such as this winner from the Colchester Mercury Theatre Company, are so popular. Memorable, almost mythic characters, marvellous mouth-watering poetry, and a satisfying day-long dramatic structure.
Gari Jones's atmospheric production is set in the four-ale bar of the Sailors Arms, with excursions into the auditorium, park-benched and flagstoned for the occasion. Presided over from his eyrie by blind Captain Cat, the action imaginatively uses the pub furniture, the doors and the windows, to suggest the village beyond.
The set and the lighting combined to create real magic: I loved the slide through the bar-side servery, the organ keys in the table, the long-drowned outside the frosted “Wines and Spirits” glass, and Evans the Death rising from the grave. The geisha, out of the same trap, was a literal picture too far for me.
Of course it is hard to know how much of what we hear needs to be shown as well, a problem amusingly illustrated by the Revd Eli Jenkins, prompted on his entrance by a bossy narrator. To help the narrative flow and boost the dramatic energy, some lines had been re-allocated among the nine actors, who between them brought a whole hill-side of characters to vivid life. The inevitable quick changes were also exploited for effect, with Organ Morgan morphing into Lord Cutglass as his trousers are torn off.
The cast was a mix of familiar Mercury character actors – Roger Delves-Broughton, Christine Absalom, Ignatius Anthony, Gina Isaac – and younger blood – Pete Ashmore, Emily Woodward. The ensemble was excellent – schoolgirls, gossips, the village children: the kissing game was a memorable highlight. There was melodramatic ham from the Pughs, tender moments with Rosie Probert, and strikingly unexpected images, like the prancing postman or the old man in the babies' pram.
The music – presumably down to Sound Designer Marcus Christensen – was key to the mood: folk, musique concrete, and so on.
The show began in the stygian gloom of the bar, with recumbent shapes slumbering and dreaming, and ended with isolated figures, alone in pools of light, left for a poignant moment with their Milk Wood memories.
production photo by Robert Day
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews