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Compton Players - Under Milk Wood

6th to 9th November 2002.

This is from the Newbury Weekly News.

New 'take' on a classic

'UNDER MILK WOOD', performed by Compton Players, at The Coronation Hall, Compton, from Wednesday, November 6 to Saturday, November 9

"The Compton Players are always seeking to try something new", we were told in the programme, and full credit to them for courage in presenting the stage version of this play. For the first time they were using masks (made by the company, I understand) and presenting musical numbers, and both worked extremely well. Polly Garter's unaccompanied lament was convincingly sung.

The masks, most half-faced, enabled the players to change characters effortlessly, and gave credence to the less-than-natural or, rather, more-than-natural, Dylan Thomas poetical prose.

The play was originally written for radio and is still a play for the ear. Ideally, that beautiful prose, full of imaginative and exhilarating adjectives, adverbs, similes and metaphors, should be listened to without the distraction of movement on stage. Sometimes I closed my eyes, just to hear the poetry and find my own mind-pictures. It meant that the slightest hesitation or 'fluffing' (though there were very few instances) caused interruption and irritation.

Narrator Eric Saxton had a formidable task as he walked through the auditorium, painting word pictures and introducing us to the fishing village and people of Milk Wood at dead of night. 'Dead' was the opening scene, with floating fluorescent skeletons of the drowned in conversation with still-living Captain Cat.

We then met more than 50 villagers and a gang of children. To my inexpert ear, all spoke with credible Welsh accents that neither protruded nor jarred. We also heard the voices of the Ilsleys' Primary School choir directed by Helen Pearce (decidedly without Welsh accents!)

Great acting was not called for, and of course, there was less facial expression under the masks, but representation of all the characters was excellent, with one or two I specially liked, such as the young girl demanding a kiss or a penny. There was no jostling as they came and went, sometimes at speed, across the small stage, and the pace was maintained, especially I thought in the second half, though it may be that I had adjusted to the concept by that time.

The set worked well with its different levels which overran into the auditorium, and a backdrop that looked at the sea through a large porthole. Lighting and costumes were well executed.

Their loyal audience, representing many surrounding villages, seemed well-satisfied.