FRANK CARSON - A REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE
MICHAEL BRANDON - OFF RAMPS
GUY MASTERSON - UNDER MILK WOOD
From the NEW ZEALAND TOUR Autumn 2016:
THEATRE REVIEW NZ (Auckland) 21/10/16
The black stage lies bare save for a white chair in the spotlight and a glass beer mug downstage centre. When your script is one as famously evocative as Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood you really don't need anything else. The chair is for seated characters and geographical levels, the mug, as much as anything, seems like a tribute to the author, drunken Welsh antihero that he was.
The spotlight fades, then rises again on solo actor Guy Masterson, standing on the chair in light blue pinstripe pyjamas and shades. He launches straight into the opening, all-embracing lyrical depiction of the sleepy fishing village Llareggub (read it backwards), as its colourful and eccentric inhabitants turn in for the night. From the first, the inherent musicality of Thomas's garrulous verse instils a hypnotic, dream-like atmosphere.
Under the patently able direction of Tony Boncza, Masterson cracks through the first act at pace, channelling multiple characters in brisk succession both vocally and physically with deft mime and gestures. It's no mean feat for one middle-aged man to portray allegedly 69 distinct roles of all ages, genders (the two most common ones anyway) and social bearings; his glib delivery and comfortable bedclothes belie the consummate skill required for the task.
Act II pauses for breath a little more often. Still liberally laced with humour and song, it delves more deeply into the melancholy side of life in the quiet seaside town, culminating with the poignancy of blind retired seamen Captain Cat's wistful remembrance of Rosie Probert, his favourite love 'in a life sardined with women'. The 24-hour narrative concludes as Llareggub settles down for the night once more, with a prevailing sense the myriad events of the day will inevitably repeat themselves tomorrow.
Under Milk Wood could be described as dramatic poetry, with generous servings of wry wit, and a dramatis personae to rival Dickens for entertaining nomenclature: Captain Cat, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, Jack Black the cobbler, Polly Garter, Nogood Boyo, Gossamer Beynon, PC Attila of Handcuff House, Organ and Mrs Morgan, Mog Edwards, Myfanwy Price, undertaker Evans 'the Death', et al.
Albeit the wordplay being the thing, the visual potential of the limited production resources is well realised, in particular with the compellingly enlarged shadowplay on the back wall. Composer Matt Clifford's accompanying soundscape further augments the ethereal tone with aplomb. Orchestral backing and specific instrumentations such as Organ Morgan's church pipes underpin Masterson's verbally graphic descriptions, along with other incidental noises, plus the suitably eerie holographic reverb effect on the voices of a number of ghostly beings.
Guy Masterson has been performing this work on and off for around a couple of decades now. The fresh energy and natural joy he exudes in the process implies he'll be happy to continue doing so for as long as people continue to come, which isn't likely to let up any time soon or later given the timeless brilliance of Thomas' most celebrated masterwork. (Nick Smythe - Theatre Review NZ - 21/10/16)
THEATRE SCENES - (Auckland) 20/10/16)
The last time Guy Masterson visited Auckland's Herald Theatre in 1999 with his solo version of Under Milk Wood, he helped inspire a future classic of New Zealand Drama. A young Toa Fraser had been working on a Fijian story, but after watching Masterson, went in a very different direction. One chair. One actor. Multiple characters. No 2 was born and Masterson would go on to produce No 2 at the Edinburgh Fringe.
It was with this very cool serendipitous footnote in New Zealand theatre history in the back of my mind that I went to Masterson's performances of Under Milk Wood and Shylock, alternating this week at the Herald.
In Under Milk Wood Masterson faithfully performs the Dylan Thomas' day of the life in a small Welsh community, made famous by the 1954 Richard Burton-led broadcast. While it most usually performed for large casts, Masterson gives himself the challenge of inhabiting all 69 characters.
He has the easy-listening British stage voice, sucking on the words like treacle. He's been doing Under Milk Wood for years, and it is clear that that text especially is part of his bones.
Masterson casts his magic immediately in Under Milk Wood, as we, the only ones with our eyes unclosed, are led through the dreams of the town's inhabitants. The long-standing problem with this text for the stage is that is inherently an undramatic piece - there is bugger all conflict or growth, and nothing is different by the end of the day. Making it a solo helps to keep these flashes of lives engaging, as we admire the fluency of his expression. The perfectly evoked music by Matt Clifford also nudges it along. It can be easy to get lost in the wash of the characters, but easy enough to find one's way back. Though it helped orientate the audience, physically there was too much recourse to literal pantomime, and I began to long for some more surprising choices. Overall, it is a fitting vehicle to appreciate Thomas's craft.
Under Milk Wood is a beautiful, gently lulling, meditative experience. (James Wenley - Theatre Scenes - 20/10/16)
THEATREREVIEW NZ - (Port Nelson) 14/10/16)
"We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood" - surely words which we can relate to as people living in our own city of Nelson.
Much of the dialogue Dylan Thomas uses, comforts us, so we settle down to enjoy an evening of the happenings in the village of Llareggub, in Wales.
Tony Boncza directs with style and simplicity. A lone, slatted wooden chair sits spotlighted on the stage as we find our seats. Apart from a pair of dark glasses, this is the only prop and it substitutes for a pushchair, a soap box, a rocking chair, a woman hugging her man.
The lighting is excellent and enhances the production, especially when focused brightly on the character. There is the image, like shadow puppets, on the backdrop curtain. Sound effects, by Matt Clifford, are timely and appropriate although those in the audience who are hard of hearing are disadvantaged, at times, by the level of music which drowns out the dialogue for them.
As a seasoned performer Guy Masterson has skilfully mastered the art of performing sixty nine characters on his own. Apparently effortless and with great agility he switches from one to the next and back again. Although he has performed this play over two thousand times it is as fresh and polished as though it was his first.
The play opens at night, when the citizens of Llareggub are asleep, so Masterson is suitably attired in pyjamas. After the interval, morning begins and some of the audience are disappointed that the sole actor has not changed into casual dress. We are introduced to the townsfolk, taken on a journey, learn more about Llareggub.
Masterson draws the audience closer and takes us on an energetic and coquettish romp around the village. Then night begins and the citizens return to their dreams again. The full house laughs a lot and gives Masterson a standing ovation. A night to remember indeed. (Ann C Nighy 14/10/16)
OTAGO DAILY TIMES (Dunedin) 10/10/16
To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishing boat-bobbing sea...
Whoever remembers Richard Burton delivering these lines will be grateful to his nephew Guy Masterson for continuing the family tradition.
Under Milk Wood, a "Play for Voices'' by fellow-Welshman Dylan Thomas, evokes an everyday reality out of magical fiction. On Saturday night, Masterson brought that magic here; the audience was rapt, their standing ovation his reward.
In the first radio broadcast of Under Milk Wood in 1958, there were 27 voices, Masterson recounts in an interview (ODT October 1).
In this captivating revival of a play that has taken many forms in different media, his is the only voice, albeit divided among some 69 characters. Dressed in distinctly ordinary pyjamas, with two props, a beer mug and a chair, he enters the sleeping bodies and dreaming heads of people in the seaside town of Llaregyb (or Llareggub - read it backwards).
As they toss and turn in bed, cuddle a spouse, fight private battles, their unexpressed memories, misfortunes and desires are given voice in songs, rhymes and highly poetic prose.
Masterson's animated narration is accompanied by a soundtrack incorporating selected imagery. This suggests a balance that's been worked for: when to admit other senses to the experience, and when to leave the text well alone?
I certainly enjoyed the monstrous night shadows cast by spotlights on the forestage. Both actor and audience relished the theatricality of this performance, the clowning, the suggestiveness, the irony. It's a classic: a day in the life of ordinary folk, conveyed in unforgettable words. (Helen Watson White - Otago Daily Times 10/10/16)
THEATRE REVIEW NZ (Dunedin) 09/10/16
The line at the Fortune Theatre goes out the door, down the stairs, along the street and around the corner. Everyone is eagerly waiting to see Under Milk Wood performed by Guy Masterson. They are not disappointed.
Under Milk Wood is a classic. Written by poet Dylan Thomas, it is replete with alliteration, similes and perfectly chosen verbs. It is not just the beautiful language that makes Under Milkwood memorable, it is also the truly wonderful characters. The play covers a day in the life of a small Welsh village called Llareggub: Dylan Thomas showing his attitude towards his fictional village by naming it bugger all backwards.
We start by entering the dreams of the inhabitants of the village, and immediately gain intimate knowledge of their fears and desires. As the day progresses we see little snapshots of the sixty nine mainly eccentric characters as their lives criss-cross over each other's, as they laugh and cry and dance and gossip through the day.
Popular characters include Mr Beynon the butcher going after the corgis, the adorable relationship between the Cherry Owens, Mr Pugh's murderous fantasies, Mrs Organ Morgan eating and gossiping as a pelican and the little girls skipping rope sequence.
Masterson takes on the phenomenal challenge of playing an entire village by himself with ease. Of course, it does help that he has performed this show since 1994. A truly staggering two thousand times. If you are wondering, there is no apparent evidence in the performance of his being bored with the script after so long. He allows the performance to flow along with the rhythm of the words and changes character so fast he barely seems to take a breath. He capitalises on the comedy in Dylan Thomas' gleeful sense of humour.
Matt Clifford has designed wonderful music and soundscape for this show. The lighting design is simple and effective. The audience is particularly admiring of the giant shadows while Mr Pugh cavorts, and the flickering news reel effect for the guide book. The lighting and sound technicians, are more than just operators, they are an integral part of the show. Their timing and the scenes they create are fantastic.
Director Tony Boncza can be proud of the show he helped create as it ends in a standing ovation. Sadly, there is only one performance of Under Milk Wood in Dunedin. If you missed out, you may be lucky enough to get one of the last couple of tickets for Shylock also performed by Guy Masterson at 2pm on Sunday the 9th of October. (Kimberly Buchan - Theatre Review NZ 09/10/16)