'We are not Wholly bad or good,
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And thou, I know, wilt be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.'
A play for Voices: wonderful for radio.
Aldine Papaerbacks, J.M. Dent & Sons LTD
Year it was published:
first published in 1954
This work is based around the Fictional Welsh sea town; Llaregub (rumoured to be named this as it is 'bugger all' backwards), which contains a variety of eccentric and wildly mad inhabitants. Guided by the words and insight of two strangers passing through the town, it is clear that we dont really know what goes on behind our neighbours doors. From such crazy charectors such as Captin Cat the old sea Merchant, The loose Polly Garter with her many children to Mrs Ogmore-pritchard and her two dead husbands.
On the 9th of November 1953, a few days after his 39th birthday Dylan Thomas dies in New York. Under Milk Wood was finished just a month before his death, though he had worked intermittently on the play for nearly 10 years. Under Milk Wood, a play for voices, grew by a slow and natural process, and the story of that growth, known only to a few friends of the poet, is most intersting. Thomas liked small towns by they sea best, and small Welsh towns by the sea best of all. Before the war he lived for many years in Laugharne, and during the war for a time in New Quay: there is no doubt that he absorbed the spirit of these places and, through imagination and insight, the spirit of all other places like them.
Why i decided to read this book:
I first came across this play in a GCSE Drama class, where I studied other Dylan Thomas classics such as 'A child's Christmas in Wales.' However i found that school often seemed to suck the life out of great works, most notoriously Shakespeares work, as its usually overdone and taught in the most uninspriational way (not always, but sometimes), however about 3 years years on ive re-discovered these classics and see them in a completely different light, the light most teachers pray they can inject into a classroom of bored children.
Dylan Thomas' work is so 'real,' he often writes in a very sattirical way but still manages to bring the charecters into reality. Usually his fictional charectors will be merely charecatures of those found in real life.
Being Welsh i really identify with his writing, but I feel that it gives thoses from elsewhere a real glimpse into his upbringing and views on life.
There is never a dull moment in this play, its excellent on stage. I love Dylan Thomas' work and this lives up to his genius whith a play full of charectors fit for an asylum.
It may sound sad to some but I have been a fan of Dylan Thomas for many years, in fact I can clearly remember borrowing books from the local library that were filled with his creative writing at the tender age of fifteen.
He was born on 27th October 1914 in Swansea, the first born child of David and Florence Thomas.
David Thomas himself gained a First Class degree at the University of Aberystwyth and Florence was an accomplished seamstress.
Dylan's quiet yet strong willed father was very much in love with the idea of becoming a poet himself but circumstances meant that he had to take a post as an English teacher at Swansea Grammar school, after all someone had to earn the proverbial crust.
His Mother Florence had completely different ideas about life, she loved company and liked nothing better than having a little fun.
If the truth were known the Thomas family were more often than not strapped for cash but outwardly appearances were everything . The middle class family lived in an up and coming area of Swansea, a maid was employed for the menial tasks and both Dylan and his sister Nancy enjoyed the luxury of elocution lessons, which incidentally had a long lasting impact on Dylan and he spoke with a cut glass accent.
I expect by now you are beginning to wonder why I am waffling on about Dylan's childhood but to get the measure of the man I feel it is important to know where he came from.
Dylan wrote poetry from a very young age and he was strongly encouraged by his parents who desperately wanted him to do well.
Dylan had other ideas, he excelled at English but apart from that he was a complete rebel, he left school in 1931 and secured a job as a reporter for the South Wales Evening Post.
It was at some point during 1933 that his poetry was gaining recognition but by then Dylan had moved to London and was fast gaining a reputation as being a drunkard.
Like many accomplished poets Dylan based his work on what he `knew` and that included his beloved Wales, childhood, lost innocence, life and death and a huge helping of nostalgia.
Dylan wrote his most famous radio play `Under Milk Wood` over a number of years. Some say that a visit to Newquay was the inspiration for the tale, others report that Dylan wrote the play as his stance against the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, it was his way of saying to the world that there was still much beauty in our troubled world.
Under Milk Wood beckons us to tune in to the ramblings of the Llareggub village ( a seaside village ) folk going about their daily business. ( This was a clever play on words, the village name Llareggub spelt backwards is `buggerall!)
The play has around thirty two principal characters, so unless I bore you to tears I think we can only touch on a few of the most memorable ones!
Captain Cat is a retired Sea Captain who has lost all of his sight and constantly dreams of his old sea dog pals. In his dreams all of the crew of the S.S Kidwelly revisit him to chat. In one very poignant part Captain Cat has a chat with Rosie Probert (deceased) of 33, Duck Lane. Rosie is asking the Captain all about what he saw at sea and Rosie is spellbound when the Captain elaborates.
Now Mrs Ogmore -Pritchard owns the village guest house and is a compulsive cleaner. She has been married and widowed twice, her first husband sold linoleum and he died of natural causes but her second husband was a bookmaker, his business failed and he committed suicide. Mrs Ogmore -Pritchard is very selective about who stays in her immaculate guest house and she is forever chatting to her two long departed husbands, constantly reminding them of their allotted tasks and the proper way to carry them out.
Llareggub like any village has an inquisitive postman and Mr Willy Nilly eats, sleeps and dreams of delivering his mail.When he is tucked in bed at night nestled up against Mrs Willy Nilly he often taps her like a letterbox! But Mrs Willy Nilly is dreaming sweet dreams where she is being naughtily spanked for being late for school!
Butcher Beynon is the village businessman who too has his own rather unusual dreams! His school teacher daughter is called Gossamer and she dreams her sexy dreams of illicit encounters with umknown sailors. Lily Small is the Beynons maid who also spends her life dreaming of love and lust!
Myfanwy Price owns the local sweet shop and she also does dressmaking on the side for the villagers. She has a big thing going for Mog Edwards the village baker, who resists her advances at all costs!
Maybe that is enough information about the villagers for now, or you will know the play off by heart.
As you see Dylan has taken village life, dissected it and then put it back together to suit his purpose, with a weird and wonderful outcome!
In retrospect his imaginary village is in real life much like any village I have ever lived in!
It is abound with gossip and everyone knows everything and everybody.
Dylan has almost certainly added a lot of sexual undertone, which adds to the play in a delightful way!
Llareggub goes about is business and Dylan charts the daily progress well. His eye for detail is second to none and one of the only ways that I can describe his writing is that he paints a Masterpiece on paper.
I just have to tell you about one more character, a man that is dear to me, the Reverend Eli Jenkins.
Every village used to have its own Vicar and Llareggub was no different. The Reverend loves to write poetry and for me the ultimate moment comes when the Reverend Eli Jenkins stands at the door of Bethesda house and recites his `Sunset poem` to the village.
The words are so touching they never fail to reduce me to tears, on the audio tape the prayer is put to music and it is often sung as a concert piece. It is especially magical if it is sung by a male voice choir.
The Reverend Eli Jenkins prayer.
Every morning when I wake,
Dear lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die.
And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I'm sure is always touch and go.
We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And thou, I know, wilt be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.
O let us see another day!
Bless us all this night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, Good -bye- but just for now!
Under Milk Wood was originally broadcast by BBC Radio.
Dylan Thomas showed incredible writing skills as he penned the play. For anyone who has never read any of his work the play may seem strange, even disjointed. But as you re read the words it becomes crystal clear.
Under Milk Wood can be found on the Amazon website for as little a a couple of pounds.
If you love words or play on words and admire anyone who can string seemingly simple words together and create a sense of mystique then Under Milk Wood would be a great read for you.
The play is also available on an audio tape and this is where the Reverend Eli Jenkins Prayer is set to music. The audio tape has Richard Burton as the first voice and Sian Phillips as the second voice and once again is on the Amazon website for under ten pounds.
'Under milk Wood' is an extremely unusual play for voices. The play doesn't detail sets and stage directions, instead the first and second voices are used to move from different places and different times, an example of this is when the first voice says 'Captain Cat, at his window thrown wide to the sun, this enables the audience to visualise the setting and what is happening. 'Under Milk Wood' was designed as a radio piece, so the first and second voices are needed to make the play understandable.
Instead of being spread over a long period of time like most modern dramas, 'Under Milk Wood' deals with one day in the life of a welsh seaside village, which makes it fairly unusual in comparison to other modern dramas. Instead of just focussing on one or two characters and treating them as the main characters, Dylan Thomas deliberately gives us an overview of village life; this helps to make the play more interesting, especially as it deals with only one day.
Captain Cat shows us how predictable life in Milk Wood is by describing not what he sees but what he knows is happening, as he is blind. When Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard slams the door on Willy Nilly the postman, Captain Cat says 'and back she goes to the kitchen to polish the potatoes'. Captain Cat only speaks once with a living member of the community, which is Polly Garter, a young woman who most of the inhabitants of the village despise, however Captain Cat.appears to approve of the loving generosity of Polly Garter. The only other conversations which Captain Cat has are with the dead such as when he says 'Oh my dead dears!'
Polly Garter is portrayed as a promiscuous and generous character, she is a woman who craves and gives love, although her true love has gone to 'Little Willie Wee who is dead, dead, dead' the audience is informed about her true love as she is heard singing a song about him. Polly Garter provides plenty of gossip for the woman of the town, although if we listen carefully to what she says we pity her.
Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard is portrayed as being a very committed character. Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard's behaviour often comes across as being very obsessive and in some ways abnormal. She is extremely stubborn and is so proud of her immaculately clean home that she doesn't let people so much as blow their nose in it. When Willy Nilly the postman gives her a letter from a birdwatcher asking for accommodation for two weeks, she says:
'I don't want persons in my nice clean rooms, breathing all over the chairs...putting their feet on my carpets and sneezing on my china and sleeping in my sheets'. This shows us how obsessed with keeping her house clean and tidy she is. Her husbands are both dead, but are still tormented by her obsessive petty instruction. As well as making her very dislikeable and unbearable to the other villagers, her obsession is also quite dangerous. Her front door step had been polished so many times that Willy Nilly the postman slipped over on it and then he warns other people about how clean her step is: 'careful now, she swabs the front glassy. Every steps like a bar of soap'. These descriptions provide a very visual image for the audience. As the play is a play for voices the characters have to be very descriptive so that the audience can understand what is happening.
Mrs Pugh is a vile, callous character, whose husband fantasises about killing her. Mr Pugh is very vindictive, sly and treacherous towards his wife. When he takes Mrs Pugh her tea, he says: 'Here's your arsenic, dear. And your weed-killer biscuit. I've throttled your parakeet. I've spat in your vases. I've put cheese in the mouse holes. Here's your...[door creaks open]...nice tea dear'. In some ways the audience is able to understand Mr Pugh's feelings towards his wife, as she is a very unappealing character however, the audience may also feel that Mr Pugh is being unfair to her.
Jack Black comes across as being very straight-laced. Controlled and decent although in reality he is actually very hypocritical as he is narrow minded and obsessed with sex. In the play he says very few words, but his name alone suggests misery, throughout this character Dylan Thomas criticises all that is to him, to be rejected in formal religion. However, Dylan Thomas's portrayal of the Reverend Eli Jenkins is fond, delightful and affectionate, therefore he does not condemn religion completely. Thomas describes the Reverend Eli Jenkins as a good man who cares for all his people and his surroundings.
Willy Nilly the postman comes across as a very inconsiderate character. He gets his wife to steam open other peoples letters so that him and his wife can know everything that goes on in the village. His wife is never seen so his own private life is kept private, even though he gossips about every one else regardless of their feelings. The audience would see Willy Nilly as a very nosey and undesirable character.
Mr and Mrs Cherry Owen are the characters that could perhaps represent Thomas's personal ideal. Mr Cherry Owen gets so drunk that he doesn't know what he is doing, and instead of being embarrassed and intolerant of his behaviour, Mrs Cherry Owen just laughs with him as though it is entertaining. One morning, the Cherry Owens were discussing, with amusement what Mr Cherry Owen asks 'and then?' Mrs Cherry Owen replied. 'And then I got you into bed and you snored all night like a brewery'. Then they laughed delightedly together. The audience would find it hard to believe the behaviour of this odd couple, as Mr Cherry Owens behaviour would be considered completely unacceptable and embarrassing.
Dai Bread is a character that lives entirely guilt free despite his extremely irregular lifestyle. He has two wives; one for the daytime and one for the night, yet neither of them seems to be bothered about this.
Characters such as Nogood Boyo, Sinbad Sailor and Mae Rose Cottage are described humorously by Dylan Thomas. They are portrayed as being pre-occupied with sex, for example Mae Rose Cottage is a beautiful young lady who is naïve, guilt ridden and has grown up in a village society where sex is equated with wickedness.
The village children are shown playing games, which appear to be childish, but on closer examination reveal some of the same pre-occupations as the adults, such as sex and money. An example of this is when a schoolgirl says 'Kiss me in Milk Wood or give me a penny'.
Under Milk Wood was written to be performed as a radio piece, where by hearing the words the audience are able to create the pictures in their minds. 'Under Milk Wood' was first broadcast by the BBC in January 1954 and the first stage readings were in the New York Poetry Centre in May 1953, all the parts were played by just 5 actors. The only direction which Dylan Thomas gave to the actors was 'Love the words, love the words'. Under Milk Wood is often performed in the theatre as a blacked out piece with spotlights showing brief glimpses of the character that is speaking. In a review John Malcolm Brinnim said 'the stage was dim until a soft breath of light showed Dylan's face' and Thomas himself called it 'an entertainment out of the darkness'.
Thomas redrafted his work many times to allow it to work as a play for voices. It is ironic that the play has lots of references to silence such as 'muffled', 'lulled', dumbfounded', 'hushed', 'dumb', 'gloved' and 'furred', as being a play for voices, sound is the only way of communicating the story. The film version allows longer 'glimpses' of the characters as it can show what the characters are doing. The story is successfully conveyed to the audience by the descriptiveness of the characters speech.
The play is still often performed; the most famous productions were in 1956 at the Edinburgh festival. The film was made in 1971 and had a largely welsh cast led by Richard Burton, the EMI celebrity recording in 1988 and the most recent animated film which Walford Davies said 'matched the cartoon simplicity on which the play itself thrives'.
With the exception of 'Under Milk Wood' the majority of Dylan Thomas's work was poetry. In 'Under Milk Wood' he uses many of the poetical devices that he used in his poetry. Walford Davies said in the 1995 Everyman edition:' the voices across the air create a kind of unattached, self-sustaining music'. Davies also said ' Our ability to reach through the heard word to the seen picture is what energises the play'. This is true as it is the language that leads us into the carrying perspectives of the village and its inhabitants.
The portrayal of the characters is not very convincing as all the characters are extremely exaggerated, the characters are based on the realistic behaviour and attitudes of people and then over exaggerated to make it humorous. Some of the characters only speak few words but their name alone portrays what sort of character they are, for example 'Mae Rose Cottage' is a name, which implies that she is young and beautiful. The name Nogood Boyo suggests that the character is mischievous, adventurous, rebellious and irresponsible. Although we only get mere glimpses of the characters lives, by the end of the play we feel that we know the characters and are left with fond impressions of Milk Wood.
I cannot remember this play, I really ought to read it for myself. I am told it's very good and this is the reason I'm reviewing it:
My mother used to read to us all the time, she would read anything and was very good at it. Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas was one of books she read. She would read it to us with Welsh voices and was fantastic at it. When she tried to read it again with english accent we complained and insisted she read it 'properly'.
I have just had my first children and am now going to find the book and practice my Welsh imitations and as the only Welsh accent I have heard recently is from Little Britain I will have to get my mother to read it to her grand children.
Dylan Thomas' evocation of 50's Wales through the minds of the inhabitants of a small country village is as fresh today as it was new mint. Possibly the finest use of licence payers money ever spent by the BBC and worth every penny when heard on radio. This magical play is only slightly reduced on the page (although I would recommend the audiobook spoken by Dylan himself, a little crackly, but his voice?). The sheer inventiveness and wit of his vocabulary, coupled with an extraordinary ear for dialogue make this an unforgettable experience. Lively characterisation, coupled with a plot as bizarre as the word association in the text lend this work a cultural and critical significance. It is also quite humerous and very, well, jolly, for a classic work of fiction. A seminal text that nobody should be without. Oh, who wouldn't like it...can't think of anyone at all. If you can then please leave a comment!
I wonder if "Under Milk Wood" isn't simply the best piece of literature to have been specifically written for the radio? I don't know, but that's my opinion anyway! "Under Milk Wood" is a play for voices. It is funny, it is touching without being cheaply sentimental, it is fantastically vivid. It describes a single day in the life of a Welsh fishing village 50 years ago. As a play for voices, it is perhaps not a coincidence that its principle character (after the two narrators) is blind - Captain Cat. The play takes you into the dreams and deepest secrets of all the characters of the town. It makes you laugh both at the wickedness and the goodness and the folly of the people of Llareggyb. (If you spell the word backwards, you will note that it is one letter short of a caustic joke that the author plays on his creation.) When you consider that it has a cast of about 30 characters and that it is not immensely long, it's amazing to think that you feel like you have known all of them for years by the time you get to the end. With just a couple of brushstrokes, Dylan Thomas can capture the essence of a character with pinpoint accuracy - Polly Garter, the town "fancy woman" (i.e. a sexual enthusiast) says to her baby in an amused, wistful, and sentimental voice, as she breast feeds it in her garden under the washing line laden with drying nappies, "Nothing grows in our garden, only washing - and babies". I've seen it done with great panache on the stage, but it works so well just to listen to that it's almost not worth the bother of staging. They made a film of it, but I can only remember being heavily disappointed by it. If you can get the original recording - or the more updated version with Richard Burton reading both of the two narrators' parts - you will surely not be disappointed. These are the only two I have heard, and I treasure the memory of the first and the
possession of the second. The real miracle of the work is that you really don't have consciously to grasp all of the implications of the words he uses for his descriptions, it really does reach into your unconscious. It seems to create mental pictures with the very sounds of the words as well as the meaning. That's why you really have to hear it. Simply to read it, I suspect, would be to miss something quite essential.
Written by Dylan Thomas, Undermilk Wood is a classic book. The story of a day and a night in the lives of some of the inhabitants of Llareggub (read it backwards), somewhere in Wales. You do not need to be Welsh to appreciate the humour. Undermilk Wood was written as a play for voices and, if you buy the cd, you will be delighted with the narration of Anthony Hopkins, music by Mark Knopfler, the voices (singing and spoken) of Bonnie Tyler, Tom Jones, Sir Geraint Evans, Windsor Davies, Harry Secombe and anyone and everyone who is anybody that is Welsh. Thomas plays with words in a wonderful, colourful way. His characters are just as colourful...Lily Smalls, Captain Cat, Dai Bread, No Good Boyo... It is only a thin book, give it a try and enrich your life. Dylan Thomas can be hard to read but he does write some lovely poetry and prose. Read it and you may well realise he is actually describing someone you already know.
Published by Penguin Books