Many years ago, I bought the vinyl LP of the BBC radio production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. It’s subtitled, ‘A Play for Voices’, and that’s about as accurate a description as I can think of. The radio production is superb, with the brilliant Richard Burton articulating the First Voice in his own inimitable style. A wonderful listening experience.
But what of the text? I picked up a copy from a small independent bookshop whilst shopping in Beverley with my daughter for a student cook book, which we also found.
The text is inevitably flavoured by my memory of the broadcast. I hear the various voices, all of them Welsh, as I turn the pages. It’s a dazzling piece of writing. The characters are alive and so distinctive. The words bring to life real people, individuals drawn from Dylan’s past. He must have been a great observer of people, if his understanding of them is anything to go by. The stories they tell, the opinions they express, the incidents they cause and observe, all point to a creator who lived with them on intimate terms.
The occasional melancholy and touch of genuine sorrow apart, the play is bursting with humour. Here is a piece that celebrates life, celebrates what it is to be a human being. It is, unescapably, very Welsh in terms of language and a view of village life, but it manages to encompass all human experience in spite of its parochial setting. I laughed out loud through much of the reading, so full of joy and exuberance is the text.
If you want a brief interlude of fun, entertainment and wonder at the sheer genius of a man who could do amazing things with words, this is for you. This is one of those rare experiences in life: a perfectly created piece of imaginative storytelling. Brilliant. You’ll love it!