Under Milk Wood

Old Museum (Fractal Theatre)


This is a superb presentation of Dylan Thomas’ portrayal of love, hate, sex, death and life in a small Welsh village.

The play begins in a large hall at the Old Museum in Bowen Hills. The two principal narrators, First Voice (Norman Doyle) and Second Voice (Niki-J Price) gather the audience to stand around them for the first brief introductory verses of the play, then lead the audience outside, down a long cloister, and into the main stage. Six raised platforms with silent, still actors surround the the straw-covered floor, where some audience members stand, while others sit on the seats around the edge. The sound of water lapping against a shore plays and the ceiling is filled with a pattern of blue light, while the Voices begin to tell us about the dreams of the people of Llareggub.

As we hear about those dreams, the characters from them move among the audience. By this stage it’s already clear this is an ambitious technical production, and not just for the sake of clever tricks, but to barrage the audience from all sides with visions and voices. The effect is to show the people of Llareggub as bursting with hopes and hatreds.

This continues throughout the play. To give one example, as Mog Edwards (Kashmir Sinnamon) hears a love letter from Myfanwy Price (Siobahn Kissel) read aloud by postman Willy Nilly (Daniel Eden), Edwards stands on one platform with Willy Nilly in front of it, while Price stands on another platform a good five metres away, miming what is being read out. It’s impossible to see both platforms at once, and if Under Milk Wood were an ordinary narrative play, this would be frustrating. But for a play that’s not so much about a story, but a mess of people and the chaotic striving of their lives, it works perfectly.

Two small parts of the play that stood out for me were Mr Pugh (Samuel Green), who is emotionally brutalised by his wife (Emily Hingst) and wants to poison her, while the ghosts of Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard’s (Jane Barry) two husbands (Finn Gilfedder-Cooney and Fletcher Thompson) are so afraid of her they argue with each other about who is to enter her dream first.

There are no props used in the play; the actors mime all their actions. That’s not the end of the physicality of the performance either. Actors are carried around the stage, and jump and run, and in one spectacular scene where Lord Cut-Glass (Fletcher Thompson) listens to his “sixty-six clocks” in his kitchen, groups of actors stand on four of the raised platforms and pretend to be clocks. One actor has her legs around the neck of another who swings her from side to side, two actors form doors for a third to cuckoo out of, another two spin around each other, and yet another swivels at the waist while two more shoulder-stand on either side of him, legs raised in the air and bent at the knees. Mime and movement coach Eugene Gilfedder has trained his cast very well.

The two main songs in the play are gorgeous. Men sing a song in the Sailors Arms pub about being chimney-sweeps as boys, and earlier Polly Garter (Imogen Gilfedder-Cooney) mourns her lost love Wee Willie.

The actors playing the two Voices are professionals, while the rest of the cast are amateurs. Director Brenna-Lee Cooney has done a magnificent job lifting the standards of the young amateurs, almost all of whom must play several parts, while the voice coaches (Niki-J Price and Helen Howard) have taught them Welsh accents well. And a word must go to the sound and light operators, who were behind a black partly see-through curtain, with at least two of the raised platforms out of their view and with audience members directly in front of them on the same level. This must have meant a great deal of working from sound alone, which makes their job trickier.

Everyone involved with Under Milk Wood has done a great job bringing it to life. See it, to be washed away for an hour or two into the lives of people who lust, laugh, mourn, cry and aspire just like we do.

[Until 23 December]

Comment from Fractal Theatre: Thanks for sending along David to review the production. It is generally a lovely review but there are unfortunately a few major inaccuracies.

Firstly the cast are not ‘amateurs’ Zoe Deplevitz, Jane Barry, Samuel Green and Sarah Wilson are all recent acting/drama graduates from USQ or QUT. Zoe in fact has also studied overseas. Kashmir Sinnamon is currently in full-time acting/drama degree at QUT. Finn and Imogen Gilfedder-Cooney have worked for Grin and Tonic. Siobhan Kissel is a former Harvest Rain performer. Only Elena Floyd-Smith and Fletcher Thompson have no former professional experience but both have been members of Fractal Youth Theatre for nearly 10 years.

Also Eugene Gilfedder trained the cast in Mime but all the movement sequences and choreography were by Brenna Lee-Cooney.

We would really appreciate a correction as it is unfortunate to call actors amateurs when they have undergone extensive professional training and have worked as professional actors.

Thanks so much.

Eugene Gilfedder & Brenna Lee-Cooney

Reviewer’s response: I’ve been informed by Fractal that some of the actors I called amateurs are in fact professionals.

Finn Gilfedder-Cooney and Imogen Gilfedder-Cooney have worked for the Grin and Tonic theatre company, and Siobhan Kissel has performed with Harvest Rain theatre company.

Additionally, Zoe Deplevitz, Jane Barry, Samuel Green and Sarah Wilson have recently graduated from tertiary acting or drama courses, and Kashmir Sinnamon is currently studying in such a course full-time.

Fractal Theatre also advises that the choreography was by Brenna Lee-Cooney.

I apologise for the error.

Editor’s comment: A pity amateur is seen as a put-down. The word’s French (and Latin) origin denotes one who loves what they do.

— David Jackmanson
(Performance seen: Mon 13th December 2010)