Friday, 14 March 2014

Characters in 'Under Milk Wood'

Last night I saw Theatr Clwyd's production of 'Under Milk Wood' at the New Theatre, Cardiff and what a treat it was! Over the years, I have listened to the play on CD and watched a DVD of the film but it's a very long time since I've seen the stage play. Dylan Thomas is probably my favourite poet and writer and as I listened to his wonderful language again, I thought it would be a fitting post-script to yesterday's blog post on creating character to look at some of those from Llareggub [have you read this backwards?! ] - later changed to Llaregyb.

Dylan wrote 'Under Milk Wood' as a play for voices and through his careful use of words evokes some of the best loved characters in literature. Who can forget blind Captain Cat, Polly Garter with her haunting songs, Mrs Organ Morgan and No Good Boyo? The list goes on but the very words he uses, so lyrical and poetic, give such an insight into what the characters are really like. He doesn't have to describe them to us; he shows us through their actions, their mannerisms and what they say. 

For me, the play is bawdy humour at its best but is deeply moving at the same time. The dialogue is vibrant, often comical, with the result that the characters are brought to life.

When it was first published in 1954, the Sunday Times wrote:
'...the characters are romantic, earthy, mad, sane, parochial, universal, and wildly comic; and they are gifted with a revelatory wonder of words.'

I think this is a great example of characterisation:

'Alone until she dies, Bessie Bighead, hired help, born in the workhouse, smelling of the cowshed, snores bass and gruff on a couch of straw in a loft in Salt Lake Farm and picks a posy of daisies to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once when she wasn't looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.'

I would find it hard to choose a favourite character- Mr Mog Edwards and Miss Myfanwy Price, school teacher Gossamer Beynon, Mr and Mrs Cherry Owen? 

If you have seen, read or heard the play, which of the seventy four characters do you know best because of Dylan Thomas's clever 'showing' not 'telling'?

Thank you for reading. I'd love you to leave a comment.


  1. We studied Under Milk Wood at school. I remember listening to recordings of it. I'd forgotten about it, but now you've reminded me I want to read it, or listen to it, again.

    1. Can definitely recommend it, Patsy. Normally, I like to read something myself but with UMW I think it's better to listen to it - especially if it's a recording with Richard Burton as First Voice.

  2. I have the paperback book Jan that I keep handy. It's fab, wonderful and so funny. I think for characters, there's nothing to beat it. I like that gypsy type woman who lures the baker Dai bread (is it) will have to go and read again now and get back to you. She's a temptress, and livens it up.

    1. Polly Garter who had lots of babies?
      'Now men from any parish round
      Run after me and roll me on the ground........'
      I love all her haunting songs as she remembers
      'Little Willy Wee who is dead, dead, dead.'