Celebrating Dylan Thomas

What? Eh?! You mean Dylan Thomas day is TODAY?! OK – well a bit rough and ready then…

“…Down to the sloeblack, slow, black…” as you can see from the pic of my script below – not that anybody can ever forget the first time that tingled their spine – and quite often subsequently too! Note how he warns you by the eleventh word: “It is spring, moonless night in the…” that he’ll be twisting normality to wring things never got out of the language before, as the 20th century artists did with images.
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I was impressed as a kid – in class and on the radio – and I’m delighted but not too surprised that Dylan Thomas is the most googled 20th century poet, but I never realised that I’d have the opportunity to be soused in the richest possible Dylan marinade myself, for months! I haven’t yet recounted my stumbling return to amateur dramatics after fifty years, and how my irresponsible incompetence forced the company to cancel Antony and Cleopatra – that is a tragedy for another day – but the wonderful Gordon (sixty years actor manager) forgave me! AND later asked me to be Lord Cut Glass in Under Milk Wood!

Of all the excitements and other emotions one is prey to around the company, it’s the great Honour of it all that’s the king, and I find I just can’t say no, when Gordon’s almost sepulchral dramatic voice asks if I’d like to take part.

I genuinely suspect that none of the hundred-odd plays Gordon has put on, nor any of the hundred he will doubtless stage in future, could match the production they put on earlier this year. For one thing they’d already done it once before, and some of the participants then were in it now, and there’d been an additional false start subsequently, so many of them knew the play very well. Also they were of course 190% Welsh (except me and the Irish lady Dymphna 🙂 ). And many of them were and are Absolutely Top Notch actors; some better even that that! Perhaps first to leap out of my memory? The poisonous yet remarkably unpoisoned Mrs. Pugh, played by dear little old Janet, who played a fairy in the 40’s, and was on University Challenge in the 60’s. She was also “No. 23 – Important”, and though I wasn’t on stage to see here do that properly, I’ve no doubt she was ideal for the part. Unfortunately I lost an oportunity to perfect the timing and movements of my silly walk as PC Atilla Rees whilst she was commentating on Lily Smalls on her knees as walked past them both, since I don’t think DLOJ considered perfecting that aspect essential. Nonetheless, I was quite pleased with my walk, where I imagined myself a marabou stork and wafted my boots in huge graceful arcs through the air. I had to wear a thickly quilted nylon jacket under my postman’s tunic since although I was tall enough, I was not, unassisted, anything near the “barrel chested” state specified in the script. Also, that was the only one of my parts where I was recognised by anyone in the audience who knew me personally, and perhaps that was only because I had to march up to the front of the stage and glare menacingly at the audience. A bit of guilt there – I really needed a bit nore practice at glaring menacingly, especially before and after Silly Walking, and I didn’t quite invest enough preparation into my art there 😦 .

Lor Cut Glass was the most challenging for me, even though he was the only Englishman amongst my roles (in the whole play actually). He was especiually interesting because oddly he was the most weird of all the characters, certainly mine, and yet was uncannily, in ways I don’t care to explain exactly, like me. He was an extreme clock enthusiast, and I admit I may be thought to have extreme enthusiasms in certain areas of science. His fussing over his clocks, somewhat matched my fussing over my writings and programmings! 😦 In the end I decided to cradle multiple clocks in my arms and sort of fondle them. I hope it looked as weird and creepy as it was supposed to! And like me, the character was very fond of tinned mackerel, as well as being a rare Englishman amongst the Welsh. Last time, that character had been played by the remarkable Dale, who’d impresed me in another company’s performance of Blythe Spirit, and although other members of that cast were staggeringly brilliant – I would like to mention Madame Arkarty – Dale had been picked out for the prize for performance in that play, by, presumably those more expert than me. Flirting round and round the gorgeous and gorgeously played Myfanwy Price, as Mog Edwards, right in front of me, was memorable to say the least, but his performances as Cherry Owen duetting with Karen Walters, and also duetting actually chorally with Waldo, sung rivettingly by Phil Davies, were each worth the entry money themselves. I did see the recent Under Milk Wood film with Charlotte Church and the chap who was the Welshman in “Love Actually”, and although I had a lot of sympathy for that film and went along with it, it really wasn’t a patch on our production. Really.

I was also the bible puncher Jack Black, who repaired sexy shoes by day, and stalked the woods by night seeking out snogging couples to disapprove of and wave his bible at. By chance I’d recently pulled out of a skip, along with a camera and other great stuff, a gignatic leather-bound bible in Welsh. So I waved that. There is one bloke near where I live who I slightly modelled myself on for this, and I managed to get a laugh on the second performance by the way I pulled my trousers on. (They were already on of course – I’m not that kind of actor! – but I did that hip-rotation thing ladies sometimes do when pulling on their tights, which has always fascinated me.)

Other parts forcing themselves onto the stage of my memory were Mo’s Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, expertly terrorising her two dead husbands simultaneously, and of course the husbands, Phil again and Martyn. And the unexpectedly good Richard as the Reverand, and Elaine’s unbeatable Rosie “Come on up boys, I’m DEAD” Probert. How could a strict and respectable teacher play that part so vividly?!
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And then there was… Gordon’s daughter as Polly Garter. Just uncommentable. And don’t forget she can sing at least as well as Charlotte Church – and she did. And she was just as good as Lily Smalls. Jo’s going to be the Alison Steadman character in “Abigail’s Party” which she’s directing later this month. And we musn’t forget her mum and her kids and all the other kids in the show, and all those wonderful gossip ladies along with Captian Cat, who were the two washing-line poles of the play… and all the rest of them, and Myfanwy Price’s real son who did the lights 🙂 .

And yet I had yet ANOTHER part too! I actually volunteered as The Voice Of The Guide Book. I soon realised DT was using it to mock Pevsner the German architect who drove around Britain after the war, writing guidebooks on the buildings. Thomas used him as an ignorant, unfeeling outsider, to gain sympathy for Llaregub (that’s: “Llar(with the Welsh double L of course)-REG(with a rolled R)-ib”) and its characters. Of course I couldn’t expect any audience to understand my attempt at a German accent, for more than one reason, so I left it out, but I tried to put a fair degree of disdain into my commentary. Initially Gordon wanted less disdain, and I put more sympathy into it, but then it did sound like some weird and very cynical Allan Whicker! Maybe when I recorded it (some voices were played from recordings) I put a little more mildly Tuetonic coldness back into into it, because I am delighted to say that Gordon said he quite liked the detached objectivity in the end 🙂 .

Nice to be able to repay even a little!

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