Jack Thompson "begins at the beginning" Sydney Theatre Company’s Under Milk Wood. Photographer: Heidrun Löhr © 2012

The Sydney Theatre Company Plays Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood

It is no easy task to stage a radio play, or even a “Play for Voices.” We’re not talking about, say, making a dreadful Hollywood movie, or even a schlocky 1950’s film of War of the Worlds; in Under Milk Wood nothing happens. That’s not so much even the main difficulty, though, as is presenting something to the eye which complements Dylan Thomas’ “prose with blood-pressure,” an actor’s doing things — or choosing to stay immobile — and creating activity in a sensible way without stepping on the imagination’s toes. Something similar goes for the cooperative efforts of the costume, set, and music. One way might be to make a sort of symphonic concert out of it, in three movements: night, day, and evening, the actors using their voices mainly with minimal secondaries of costume, gesture, lighting and music, a verbal analogue to a recital or concert. The other extreme might be to turn it into a ‘proper play,’ with with changing sets of Coronation Street

The Sydney Theatre Company's Pygmalion, Act V, Andrea Demetriades as Eliza and Marco Chiappi as Higgins. Photo by Brett Boardman.

The 100th Birthday of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion: The Sydney Theatre Company Celebrates With Something Different

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton as artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company saw fit to bring out a new, modern, almost experimental approach to Shaw’s most popular play for its 100th birthday. To speak of the birth of a play, or any piece or performing art, is tricky. Shaw wrote the play in 1912, but the words on in the script are no more the play than those of a poem are the poem or a score the piece of music. Even in Shaw’s case where the sounds of the words are so important and the characters’ accents are all precisely set out — the drama depending almost as much on the raw sounds than their words’ meanings — not to mention Shaw’s preface to the play and his (I think purposefully prosaic) postscript-sequel, there is still room left for at least subtle variations in interpretation. With all these pieces of information specifying Shaw’s intentions and the precise and definite stage directions, the play is already especially alive on the page, but still much of the gestural and body language and movement, which is very important to language, is left open. For all this definiteness, the end is so ambiguous, and as a “romance”, itself a very broad term, it is more akin to, say, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s species of romance. From a character’s point of view it is almost easier to find oneself in a tragedy and leaving one’s problems behind at the end.

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