Review: Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood at The National’s Olivier Theatre, London

One of my favourite theatre experiences is to see a brand new version of a classic play. Something which retains the power of the original but gives contemporary insight. This production does this magnificently.

By Angie Millard

Under Milk Wood uncovers 24 hours in the life of a sleepy Welsh village. We learn about the public selves of the people there and their secret hopes and fears. We creep into every nook and cranny of their lives. There is Mr Pugh who dreams of poisoning his wife, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard who has outlived two husbands and whose ghostly presences sleep with her every night. There is Nogood Boyo ‘up to no good in the woodshed’ and Lily Smalls who circles her nipples with lipstick as she croons ‘call me Dolores like they do in the stories’. Strict Baptist individuals and libertarians; all are there and only the narrator knows the truth. It was written as a play for voices and could have been seen as a period piece until this production.

Sian Owen has written a frame for the play in which Michael Sheen visits his father in an Old People’s Home to be reconciled after years of estrangement. His father is suffering from dementia and does not acknowledge him, but by telling the story of his father’s childhood in a Welsh village, he gradually breaks through and is recognised. Michael Sheen is the energy which drives the play forward: a bravura performance which left me in tears. The large cast take many parts and are incredibly versatile, melting from octogenarians into a vigorous portrayal of the villagers.

The designer uses furniture on wheels and scenic units like the bar at ‘The Sailor’s Arms’ and are swiftly moved into place so that the action is seamless. Essential costume pieces and props create an immediate transformation.

But most importantly, the director had a vision and it works.

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood was performed at National’s Olivier Theatre, London on Wednesday 21 July 2021.It was directed by Lyndsey Turner. The Set and Costume Designer was Merle Hensel and Lighting Designer was Tim Lutkin.