Under Milk Wood
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Under Milk Wood is a 1954 radio drama by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, commissioned by the BBC and later adapted for the stage. A film version, Under Milk Wood directed by Andrew Sinclair, was released in 1972, and another adaptation of the play, directed by Pip Broughton, was staged for television for the 60th anniversary in 2014.
An omniscient narrator invites the audience to listen to the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of the fictional small Welsh fishing village, Llareggub.
They include Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, relentlessly nagging her two dead husbands; Captain Cat, reliving his seafaring times; the two Mrs. Dai Breads; Organ Morgan, obsessed with his music; and Polly Garter, pining for her dead lover. Later, the town awakens and, aware now of how their feelings affect whatever they do, we watch them go about their daily business.
Origins and development
In 1931, the 17-year-old Thomas created a piece for the Swansea Grammar School magazine which included a conversation of Milk Wood stylings, with Mussolini, Wife, Mr. Pritchard and Mr. Ogmore. Some of its lines are similar to those that would later be found in Under Milk Wood. In 1933, Thomas talked at length with his mentor and friend, Bert Trick about creating a play about a Welsh town:
"He read it to Nell and me in our bungalow at Caswell around the old Dover stove, with the paraffin lamps lit at night ... the story was then called Llareggub, which was a mythical village in South Wales, a typical village, with terraced houses with one ty bach to about five cottages and the various characters coming out and emptying the slops and exchanging greetings and so on; that was the germ of the idea which ... developed into Under Milk Wood."
Laugharne and New Quay
In 1938, Thomas suggested that a group of Welsh writers should prepare a verse-report of their "own particular town, village, or district." A few months later, in May 1938, the Thomas family moved to Laugharne, and lived there intermittently for just under two years until July 1941; they did not return to live in Laugharne until 1949. The author Richard Hughes, who lived in Laugharne, has recalled that Thomas spoke with him in 1939 about writing a play about Laugharne, in which the villagers would play themselves. Four years later, in 1943, Thomas met again with Hughes, and this time outlined a play about a Welsh village certified as mad by government inspectors.
The Thomas family moved to New Quay in September 1944 and left in July the following year. Thomas had previously visited the town whilst living in nearby Talsarn in 1942-1943, and had an aunt and cousins living there. He had written a New Quay pub poem, Sooner than you can water milk, in 1943.
His biographers are in accord that Thomas' time in New Quay was one of the most productive of his adult life. Some of those who knew him well have said that he began writing Under Milk Wood in New Quay, including his first biographer and close friend, Constantine Fitzgibbon. The play's first producer, Douglas Cleverdon, concurred, noting that Thomas "wrote the first half within a few months; then his inspiration seemed to fail him when he left New Quay." One of Thomas' closest friends and confidante, Ivy Williams of Brown's Hotel, Laugharne, has said "Of course, it wasn’t really written in Laugharne at all. It was written in New Quay, most of it."
The writer and puppeteer, Walter Wilkinson, visited New Quay in 1947, and his essay on the town captures its character and atmosphere as Thomas would have found it two years earlier.
There were many milestones on the road to Llareggub, and these have been detailed by Walford Davies in his Introduction to the definitive edition of Under Milk Wood. The most important of these was Quite Early One Morning, Thomas’ description of a walk around New Quay, broadcast by the BBC in 1945, and described by Davies as a "veritable storehouse of phrases, rhythms and details later resurrected or modified for Under Milk Wood." One striking example from the broadcast is:
- Open the curtains, light the fire, what are servants for?
- I am Mrs. Ogmore Pritchard and I want another snooze.
- Dust the china, feed the canary, sweep the drawing-room floor;
- And before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.
Davies concludes that "New Quay, so similar in many ways to Laugharne, was crucial in supplementing the gallery of characters Thomas had to hand for writing Under Milk Wood." Fitzgibbon had come to a similar conclusion many years earlier, noting that Llareggub "resembles New Quay more closely [than Laugharne] and many of the characters derive from that seaside village in Cardiganshire..." John Ackerman has also suggested that the story of the drowned village and graveyard of Llanina, just outside New Quay, "is the literal truth that inspired the imaginative and poetic truth" of Under Milk Wood.
Elba, South Leigh and Prague
In April 1947, Thomas and family went to Italy. He intended to write a radio play there, as his letters home make clear. Several words and phrases that appear in the play can be found in some of Thomas’ letters from the island of Elba, where he stayed for three weeks. They mention the "fishers and miners" and "webfooted waterboys" who we later find as the "fishers" and "webfoot cocklewomen" of the first page of Under Milk Wood. The "sunblack" and "fly-black" adjectives of Elba would be re-worked as the "crowblack" and "bible-black" descriptions of Llareggub. Alfred Pomeroy Jones, sea-lawyer, "died of blisters", and so, almost, did Thomas, as he vividly describes in a letter home. And, in time, the island's "blister-biting blimp-blue bakehouse sea" would re-appear as Llareggub's "slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea."
On their return from Italy in August 1947, the Thomases moved to South Leigh in Oxfordshire, where Thomas declared his intent to work further on the play. It was here that he knocked the play into shape, as one biographer described it. There are various accounts of his work on the play at South Leigh, where he lived until May 1949. He also worked on filmscripts here, including Three Weird Sisters, in which we find the familiar Llareggub names of Daddy Waldo and Polly Probert.
Just a month or so after moving to South Leigh, Thomas met with the BBC producer, Philip Burton, in the Café Royal in London, where he outlined his ideas for "The Village of the Mad…a coastal town in south Wales which was on trial because they felt it was a disaster to have a community living in that way… For instance, the organist in the choir in the church played with only the dog to listen to him…A man and a woman were in love with each other but they never met… they wrote to each other every day…And he had the idea that the narrator should be like the listener, blind.…" Burton’s friendship with Thomas, and his influence on the play, has been set within the context of his work at the BBC in developing community portraiture on the radio.
Thomas went to Prague in March 1949 for a writers’ conference. His guide and interpreter, Jiřina Hauková, has recalled that, at a party, Thomas "narrated the first version of his radio play Under Milk Wood". She mentions that he talked about the organist who played to goats and sheep, as well as a baker with two wives. Another at the party remembered that Thomas also talked about the two Voices.
The testimony from Prague, when taken with that of Burton about the meeting in the Café Royal in 1947, indicates that several of the characters of the play were already in place by the time Thomas had moved to the Boat House in Laugharne in May 1949: the organist, the two lovers who never met but wrote to each other, the baker with two wives, the blind narrator and the Voices.
A draft first half of the play was delivered to the BBC in October 1950; it consisted of thirty-five handwritten pages containing most of the places, people and topography of Llareggub, and which ended with the line "Organ Morgan's at it early…" A shortened version of this first half was published in Botteghe Oscure in May 1952. By the end of that year, Thomas had been in Laugharne for just over three years, but his half-play had made little progress since his South Leigh days. On 6 November 1952, he wrote to the editor of Botteghe Oscure to explain why he hadn't been able to "finish the second half of my piece for you." He had failed shamefully, he said, to add to "my lonely half of a looney maybe-play".
Thomas gave a reading of the unfinished play to students at Cardiff University in March 1953. He then travelled to America in April to give the first public readings of the play, even though he had not yet written its second half. He gave a solo reading of the first half on 3 May at the Fogg Museum, Harvard, where the audience responded enthusiastically.  Rehearsals for the play's premiere on 14 May had already started but with only half the play, and with Thomas unavailable as he left to carry out a series of poetry readings and other engagements. He was up at dawn on 14 May to work on the second half, and he continued writing on the train between Boston and New York, as he travelled to the Poetry Centre there for the premiere. With the performance just ninety minutes away, the "final third of the play was still unorganised and but partially written." The play's producer, Liz Reitell, locked Thomas in a room to continue work on the script, the last few lines of which were handed to the actors as they were preparing to go on stage. Thomas subsequently added some forty new lines to the second half for the play's next reading in New York on 28 May.
On his return to Laugharne, Thomas worked in a desultory fashion on Under Milk Wood throughout the summer. He gave readings of the play in Porthcawl and Tenby, before travelling to London to catch his plane to New York for another tour, including three readings of Under Milk Wood. He stayed with the comedian Harry Locke, and worked on the play, re-writing parts of the first half, and writing Eli Jenkins' sunset poem and Waldo's chimmney sweep song for the second half. On 15 October 1953, he delivered another draft of the play to the BBC, a draft that his producer, Douglas Cleverdon, described as being in "an extremely disordered state...it was clearly not in its final form." On his arrival in New York on 20 October 1953, Thomas added a further thirty-eight lines to the second half, for the two performances on 24 and 25 October.
After the first performance on 24 October, Thomas was close to collapse, standing in his dressing room, clinging to the back of a chair. The play, he said, "has taken the life out of me for now." At the next performance, the actors realised that Thomas was "desperately ill" and had lost his voice. After a cortisone injection, he recovered sufficiently to go on stage.
Through the following week, Thomas continued to work on the script for the version that was to appear in Mademoiselle, and for the performance in Chicago on 13 November. He collapsed in the early hours of 5 November and, after a long delay, he was taken in a coma to St. Vincent's Hospital and died there on 9 November 1953. Negligence on the part of both his New York doctor, Milton Feltenstein, and his American literary agent, John Brinnin, is implicated in his death. Thomas was already ill when he arrived in America, and using an inhaler to help his breathing. A course of penicillin would have taken care of his developing chest disease but Feltenstein injected morphine, sending Thomas into a coma from which he never recovered.
John Brinnin, deeply in debt and desperate for money, failed in his duty of care. He knew Thomas was very ill, but did not cancel or curtail his programme, a punishing schedule of four rehearsals and two performances of Under Milk Wood in just five days, as well as two sessions of revising the play.
The inspiration for the play has generated intense debate. Thomas himself declared on two occasions that his play was based on Laugharne, but this has not gone unquestioned. Llansteffan, Ferryside and particularly New Quay also have their claims. An examination of these respective claims was published in 2004. Surprisingly little scholarship has been devoted to Thomas and Laugharne, and about the town's influence on the writing of Under Milk Wood. Thomas’ four years at the Boat House were amongst his least productive, and he was away for much of the time. As his daughter, Aeronwy, has recalled, "he sought any pretext to escape."
The topography of Llareggub is thought to be based on New Quay. Thomas drew a sketch map of the fictional town. This is now at the National Library of Wales and can be viewed online. The various topographical references in the play to the top of the town, and to its ‘top and sea-end’ are suggestive of New Quay, as are Llareggub's harbour, sea-going history, terraced streets, hill of windows and quarry.
Llareggub’s occupational profile as a town of seafarers, fishermen, cockle gatherers and farmers has been examined through an analysis of the returns in the 1939 War Register for New Quay, Laugharne, Ferryside and Llansteffan.
Thomas is reported to have commented that Under Milk Wood was developed in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, as a way of reasserting the evidence of beauty in the world. It is also thought that the play was a response by Thomas both to the Nazi concentration camps, and to the internment camps that had been created around Britain during World War II.
The fictional name Llareggub was derived by reversing the phrase "bugger all". In early published editions of the play, it was often rendered (contrary to Thomas's wishes) as Llaregyb or similar. It is pronounced [ɬaˈrɛɡɪb]. The name bears some resemblance to many actual Welsh place names, which often begin with Llan, meaning church or, more correctly, sanctified enclosure, although a double g is not used in written Welsh.
The name Llareggub was first used by Thomas in a short story The Burning Baby published in 1936. ("Death took hold of his sister's legs as she walked through the calf-high heather up the hill... She was to him as ugly as the sowfaced woman Llareggub who had taught him the terrors of the flesh.")
The play had usually been titled The Village of the Mad or The Town that was Mad. By summer of 1951, Thomas was calling the play Llareggub Hill but by October 1951, when the play was sent to Botteghe Oscure, its title had become Llareggub. A piece for Radio Perhaps. By the summer of 1952, the title was changed to Under Milk Wood because John Brinnin thought Llareggub Hill would be too thick and forbidding to attract American audiences.
In the play, the Rev Eli Jenkins writes a poem that describes Llareggub Hill and its "mystic tumulus". This was based on a lyrical description of Twmbarlwm's "mystic tumulus" in Monmouthshire that Thomas imitated from Arthur Machen's autobiography Far Off Things (1922).
The play opens at night, when the citizens of Llareggub are asleep. The narrator (First Voice/Second Voice) informs the audience that they are witnessing the townspeople's dreams.
Captain Cat, the blind sea captain, is tormented in his dreams by his drowned shipmates, who long to live again and enjoy the pleasures of the world. Mog Edwards and Myfanwy Price dream of each other; Mr. Waldo dreams of his childhood and his failed marriages; Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard dreams of her deceased husbands. Almost all of the characters in the play are introduced as the audience witnesses a moment of their dreams.
Morning begins. The voice of a guide introduces the town, discussing the facts of Llareggub. The Reverend Eli Jenkins delivers a morning sermon on his love for the village. Lily Smalls wakes and bemoans her pitiful existence. Mr. and Mrs. Pugh observe their neighbours; the characters introduce themselves as they act in their morning. Mrs. Cherry Owen merrily rehashes her husband's drunken antics. Butcher Beynon teases his wife during breakfast. Captain Cat watches as Willy Nilly the postman goes about his morning rounds, delivering to Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, Mrs. Pugh, Mog Edwards and Mr. Waldo.
At Mrs. Organ-Morgan's general shop, women gossip about the townspeople. Willy Nilly and his wife steam open a love letter from Mog Edwards to Myfanwy Price; he expresses fear that he may be in the poor house if his business does not improve. Mrs. Dai Bread Two swindles Mrs. Dai Bread One with a bogus fortune in her crystal ball. Polly Garter scrubs floors and sings about her past paramours. Children play in the schoolyard; Gwennie urges the boys to "kiss her where she says or give her a penny." Gossamer Beynon and Sinbad Sailors privately desire each other.
During dinner, Mr. Pugh imagines poisoning Mrs. Pugh. Mrs. Organ-Morgan shares the day's gossip with her husband, but his only interest is the organ. The audience sees a glimpse of Lord Cut-Glass's insanity in his "kitchen full of time". Captain Cat dreams of his lost lover, Rosie Probert, but weeps as he remembers that she will not be with him again. Nogood Boyo fishes in the bay, dreaming of Mrs. Dai Bread Two and geishas.
On Llareggub Hill, Mae Rose Cottage spends a lazy afternoon wishing for love. Reverend Jenkins works on the White Book of Llareggub, which is a history of the entire town and its citizens. On the farm, Utah Watkins struggles with his cattle, aided by Bessie Bighead. As Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard falls asleep, her husbands return to her. Mae Rose Cottage swears that she will sin until she explodes.
As night begins, Reverend Jenkins recites another poem. Cherry Owen heads to the Sailor's Arms, where Sinbad still longs for Gossamer Beynon. The town prepares for the evening, to sleep or otherwise. Mr. Waldo sings drunkenly at the Sailors Arms. Captain Cat sees his drowned shipmates—and Rosie—as he begins to sleep. Organ-Morgan mistakes Cherry Owen for Johann Sebastian Bach on his way to the chapel. Mog and Myfanwy write to each other before sleeping. Mr. Waldo meets Polly Garter in a forest. Night begins and the citizens of Llareggub return to their dreams again.
- Captain Cat – The old blind sea captain who dreams of his deceased shipmates and lost lover Rosie Probert. He is one of the play's most important characters as he often acts as a narrator. He comments on the goings-on in the village from his window.
- Rosie Probert – Captain Cat's deceased lover, who appears in his dreams.
- Myfanwy Price – The sweetshop-keeper who dreams of marrying Mog Edwards.
- Mr. Mog Edwards – The draper, enamoured of Myfanwy Price. Their romance, however, is restricted strictly to the letters they write one another and their interactions in their dreams.
- Jack Black – The cobbler, who dreams of scaring away young couples.
- Evans the Death – The undertaker, who dreams of his childhood.
- Mr. Waldo – Rabbit catcher, barber, herbalist, cat doctor, quack, dreams of his mother and his many unhappy, failed marriages. He is a notorious alcoholic and general troublemaker and is involved in an affair with Polly Garter.
- Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard – The owner of a guesthouse, who dreams of nagging her two late husbands. She refuses to let anyone stay at the guesthouse because of her extreme penchant for neatness.
- Mr. Ogmore – Deceased, Linoleum salesman, late of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard.
- Mr. Pritchard – Deceased, failed bookmaker, late of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard. He committed suicide "ironically" by ingesting disinfectant.
- Gossamer Beynon – The schoolteacher (daughter of Butcher Beynon), dreams of a fox-like illicit love. During the day, she longs to be with Sinbad Sailors, but the two never interact.
- Organ Morgan – The church organ player has perturbed dreams of music and orchestras within the village. His obsession with music bothers his wife intensely.
- Mrs. Organ Morgan – A shop owner who dreams of "silence," as she is disturbed during the day by Organ Morgan's constant organ-playing.
- Mr. & Mrs. Floyd – The cocklers, an elderly couple, seemingly the only couple to sleep peacefully in the village. They are mentioned only during the dream sequence and when Mrs Floyd is "talking flatfish" with Nogood Boyo.
- Utah Watkins – The farmer, dreams of counting sheep that resemble his wife.
- Ocky Milkman – The milkman, dreams of pouring his milk into a river, 'regardless of expense'.
- Mr. Cherry Owen – Dreams of drinking and yet is unable to, as the tankard turns into a fish, which he drinks.
- Mrs. Cherry Owen – Cherry Owen's devoted wife, who cares for him and delights in rehashing his drunken antics.
- Police Constable Attila Rees – The policeman, relieves himself into his helmet at night, knowing somehow he will regret this in the morning.
- Mr. Willy Nilly – The postman, dreams of delivering the post in his sleep, and physically knocks upon his wife as if knocking upon a door. In the morning they open the post together and read the town's news so that he can relay it around the village.
- Mrs. Willy Nilly – who, because of her husband's knocking upon her, dreams of being spanked by her teacher for being late for school. She assists Willy Nilly in steaming open the mail.
- Mary Ann Sailors – 85 years old, dreams of the Garden of Eden. During the day she announces her age ("I'm 85 years, 3 months and a day!") to the town.
- Sinbad Sailors – The barman, dreams of Gossamer Beynon, whom he cannot marry because of his grandmother's disapproval.
- Mae Rose Cottage – Seventeen and never been kissed, she dreams of meeting her "Mr. Right". She spends the day in the fields daydreaming and unseen, draws lipstick circles around her nipples.
- Bessie Bighead – Hired help, dreams of the one man that kissed her "because he was dared".
- Butcher Beynon – The butcher, dreams of riding pigs and shooting wild giblets. During the day he enjoys teasing his wife about the questionable meat that he sells.
- Mrs. Butcher Beynon – Butcher Beynon's wife, dreams of her husband being 'persecuted' for selling "owl's meat, dogs' eyes, manchop."
- Rev. Eli Jenkins – The reverend, poet and preacher, dreams of Eisteddfodau. Author of the White Book of Llareggub.
- Mr. Pugh – Schoolmaster, dreams of poisoning his domineering wife. He purchases a book named "Lives of the Great Poisoners" for ideas on how to kill Mrs. Pugh; however, he does not do it.
- Mrs. Pugh – The nasty and undesirable wife of Mr. Pugh.
- Dai Bread – The bigamist baker who dreams of harems.
- Mrs. Dai Bread One – Dai Bread's first wife, traditional and plain.
- Mrs. Dai Bread Two – Dai Bread's second wife, a mysterious and sultry gypsy.
- Polly Garter – An innocent young mother, who dreams of her many babies. During the day, she scrubs floors and sings of her lost love.
- Nogood Boyo – A lazy young fisherman who dreams peevishly of "nothing", though he later fantasises about Mrs. Dai Bread Two in a wet corset. He is known for causing shenanigans in the wash house.
- Lord Cut-Glass – A man of questionable sanity, who dreams of the 66 clocks that he keeps in his house, all telling different times.
- Lily Smalls – Dreams of love and a fantasy life. She is the Beynons' maid, but longs for a more exciting life.
- Gwennie – A child in Llareggub, who insists that her male schoolmates "kiss her where she says or give her a penny".
Publication and translation
The first publication of Under Milk Wood, a shortened version of the first half of the play, appeared in Botteghe Oscure in April 1952. Two years later, in February 1954, both The Observer newspaper and Mademoiselle magazine published abridged versions. The first publications of the complete play were also in 1954: J. M. Dent in London in March and New Directions in America in April.
An Acting Edition of the play was published by Dent in 1958. The Definitive Edition, with one Voice, came out in 1995, edited by Walford Davies and Ralph Maud. A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook for free use went online in November 2006, produced by Colin Choat.
The first translation was published in November 1954 by Drei Brücken Verlag in Germany, as Unter dem Milchwald, translated by Erich Fried. A few months later, in January 1955, the play appeared in the French journal Les Lettres Nouvelles as Le Bois de Lait, translated by Roger Giroux, with two further instalments in February and March. 
Over the next three years, Under Milk Wood was published in Dutch, Polish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, Japanese and Italian. It’s estimated that it has now been translated into over thirty languages, including Welsh with a translation by T. James Jones, (Jim Parc Nest), published in 1968 as Dan Y Wenallt. 
The original manuscript of the play was lost by Thomas in a London pub, a few weeks before his death in 1953. The alleged gift of the manuscript, to BBC producer Douglas Cleverdon, formed the subject of litigation in Thomas v Times Book Co (1966) which is a leading case on the meaning of gift in English property law.
|Character||14 May 1953 New York||1954 BBC Radio||1957 BBC TV||1963 BBC Radio||1964 BBC TV||1972 Film||2003 BBC Radio||2014 BBC TV|
|First Voice||Dylan Thomas||Richard Burton||Donald Houston||Richard Burton||Donald Houston||Richard Burton||Richard Burton||Michael Sheen|
|Second Voice||Dion Allen||Richard Bebb||Ryan Davies||Siân Phillips|
|Captain Cat||Roy Poole||Hugh Griffith||William Squire||Hugh Griffith||Aubrey Richards||Peter O'Toole||Glyn Houston||Tom Jones|
|Rosie Probert||Nancy Wickwire||Rachel Thomas||Gwyneth Petty||Aubrey Richards||Elizabeth Taylor||Mali Harries||Nia Roberts|
|Polly Garter||Nancy Wickwire||Diana Maddox||Marion Grimaldi||Margo Jenkins||Marion Grimaldi||Ann Beach||Eiry Thomas||Katherine Jenkins|
|Mr. Mog Edwards||Allen F. Collins||Dafydd Harvard||Aubrey Richards||Richard Davies||Victor Spinetti||Matthew Rhys||Ioan Gruffudd|
|Myfanwy Price||Sada Thompson||Sybil Williams||Margo Jenkins||Gwyneth Owen||Glynis Johns||Lisa Palfrey||Kimberley Nixon|
|Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard||Sada Thompson||Dylis Davies||Dorothea Phillips||Dorothea Prichard||Siân Phillips||Christine Pritchard||Charlotte Church|
|Mr. Ogmore||Allen F. Collins||David Close-Thomas||David Garfield||Jack Walters||Dillwyn Owen||Sion Probert||Tom Ellis|
|Mr. Pritchard||Dion Allen||Ben Williams||John Gill||Emrys Leyshon||Richard Davies||Islwyn Morris||Aneirin Hughes|
|Butcher Beynon||Allen F. Collins||Meredith Edwards||Gareth Jones||Richard Curnock||Ieuan Rhys Williams||Hubert Rees||Sion Probert||Robert Pugh|
|Gossamer Beynon||Nancy Wickwire||Gwenllian Owen||Margo Jenkins||Margaret John||Angharad Rees |Alexandra Millar|
|The Rev Eli Jenkins||Dylan Thomas||Philip Burton||T. H. Evans||T. H. Evans||Aubrey Richards||Wayne Forester||Bryn Terfel|
|Lily Smalls||Sada Thompson||Gwyneth Petty||Gwyneth Petty||Maralynn Burt||Meg Wyn Owen||Catrin Rhys||Eve Myles|
|Mr Pugh||Roy Poole||John Huw Jones||Raymond Llewellyn||Talfryn Thomas||Talfryn Thomas||Steffan Rhodri||Jonathan Pryce|
|Mrs Pugh||Nancy Wickwire||Mary Jones||Rachel Thomas||Mary Jones||Vivien Merchant||Sara McGaughey||Siân Phillips|
|Mary Ann Sailors||Sada Thompson||Rachel Thomas||Betty Lloyd-Davies||Rachel Thomas||Christine Pritchard||Sharon Morgan|
|Sinbad Sailors||Allen F. Collins||Aubrey Richards||Talfryn Thomas||Hubert Rees||Michael Forrest||Steven Meo||Jon Tregenna|
|Dai Bread||Allen F. Collins||David Close-Thomas||John Gill||Dudley Jones||?||Owen Teale|
|Mrs Dai Bread One||Sada Thompson||Gwyneth Petty||Guinevere Roberts||Dorothea Phillips||Ann Bowen||Mali Harries||Di Botcher|
|Mrs Dai Bread Two||Nancy Wickwire||Rachel Roberts||Patricia Mort||Pamela Conway||Ruth Madoc||Sara McGaughey||Sian Thomas|
|Willy Nilly Postman||Dion Allen||Ben Williams||Mervyn Johns||Denys Graham||Tim Wylton||Iestyn Jones||Tom Rhys Harries|
|Mrs Willy Nilly||Nancy Wickwire||Rachel Thomas||Rachel Thomas||Yvette Rees||Bronwen Williams||Eiry Thomas|
|Cherry Owen||Dion Allen||John Ormond Thomas||John Gill||John Gill||Glynn Edwards||Andy Hockley|
|Mrs Cherry Owen||Nancy Wickwire||Lorna Davies||Buddug-Mair Powell||Buddug-Mair Powell||Bridget Turner||Ruth Jones|
|Nogood Boyo||Allen F. Collins||Dillwyn Owen||Howell Evans||David Jason||?||Craig Roberts|
|Organ Morgan||Roy Poole||John Glyn-Jones||David Garfield||Richard Parry||?|
|Mrs Organ Morgan||Sada Thompson||Olwen Brookes||Patricia Mort||Dilys Price||Ruth Jones|
|Mae Rose Cottage||Sada Thompson||Rachel Roberts||Nerys Hughes||Susan Penhaligon||Catrin Rhys||Alexandra Roach|
|Gwennie||Sada Thompson||Norma Jones||Olwen Rees||?|
|Jack Black||Roy Poole||John Rees||Steffan Rhodri|
|Evans the Death||Allen F. Collins||Mark Jones||?||Iwan Rheon|
|Mr Waldo||Roy Poole||Gareth Jones||Roderick Jones||Ray Smith||?||Steffan Rhodri|
|Utah Watkins||Allen F. Collins||David Davies||?|
|Mrs Utah Watkins||Nancy Wickwire||Maudie Edwards||?|
|Ocky Milkman||Roy Poole||Griffith Davies||?|
|P.C. Attila Rees||Allen F. Collins||Brinley Jenkins||Davyd Harries||?|
|Bessie Bighead||Nancy Wickwire||Peggy Ann Clifford||?|
|Mrs Butcher Beynon||Nancy Wickwire||Branwen Iorwerth||Mary Jones||Sharon Morgan||Suzanne Packer|
|Lord Cut-Glass||Dion Allen||Richard Davies||Dafydd Havard||?|
|Gomer Owen||Ieuan Rhys Williams||?|
|First Neighbour||Nancy Wickwire||?||Sophie Evans|
|Second Neighbour||Sada Thompson||?||Melanie Walters|
|First Woman||Sada Thompson||?|
|Second Woman||Nancy Wickwire||?|
|Child's Voice||Sada Thompson||?|
|First Drowned||Allen F. Collins||?||Tom Rhys Harries|
|Second Drowned||Dylan Thomas||?||Karl Johnson|
|Third Drowned||Allen F. Collins||?||Iwan Rheon|
|Fourth Drowned||Dion Allen||?||Aneurin Barnard|
|Fifth Drowned||Dylan Thomas||?|
|Voice of a Guide Book||Roy Poole||John Humphrys||Griff Rhys Jones|
|Johnny Cristo||Dion Allen||?|
|Dicky||Allen F. Collins||?|
|Voice||Griff Rhys Jones|
Other notable productions
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The play had its first reading on stage on 14 May 1953, in New York City, at The Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y. Thomas himself read the parts of the First Voice and the Reverend Eli Jenkins. Almost as an afterthought, the performance was recorded on a single-microphone tape recording (the microphone was laid at front center on the stage floor) and later issued by the Caedmon company. It is the only known recorded performance of Under Milk Wood with Thomas as a part of the cast. A studio recording, planned for 1954, was precluded by Thomas's death in November 1953.
The BBC first broadcast Under Milk Wood, a new "'Play for Voices", on the Third Programme on 25 January 1954 (two months after Thomas's death), although several sections were omitted. The play was recorded with a distinguished, all-Welsh cast including Richard Burton as 'First Voice', with production by Douglas Cleverdon. A repeat was broadcast two days later. Daniel Jones, the Welsh composer who was a lifelong friend of Thomas's (and his literary trustee), wrote the music; this was recorded separately, on 15 and 16 January, at Laugharne School. The play won the Prix Italia award for radio drama that year.
There were other notable productions in 1954:
- 14 February: extracts from the play read at the Dylan Thomas Memorial Recital at the Royal Festival Hall, London.
- 28 February: a complete reading at the Old Vic with Sybil Thorndike, Richard Burton and Emlyn Williams, adapted by Philip Burton.
- 10 March: a broadcast by the BBC German Service, translated by Erich Fried as Unter dem Milchwald, followed on 20 September by the first broadcast on German radio itself.
- 28 September: the first BBC Welsh Home Service broadcast.
- November: the first stage performance, held at the Théâtre de la Cour Saint-Pierre, Geneva, by Phoenix Productions, with props lent by the BBC.
The following year, 1955, saw the first British stage production, on 13 August, at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, the first production at the Edinburgh Festival on 21 August and, on 20 September, the first London West End stage production (at the New Theatre).
The first attempt to bring the play to the screen occurred in May 1957 when the BBC broadcast a televised version narrated by Donald Houston. In 1963, the original radio producer, Douglas Cleverdon, revisited the project and recorded the complete play, which was broadcast on 11 October 1963.
In 1971, Under Milk Wood was performed at Brynmawr Comprehensive School. The production was entirely the work of pupils at the school - from set design, to lighting and direction. With very few exceptions, every character was acted by a different player to allow as many pupils as possible to take part. Scheduled for only one performance - it ran for a week.
The 1972 film adaptation, with Burton reprising his role, also featured Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O'Toole, Glynis Johns, Vivien Merchant and other well-known actors, including Ryan Davies as the "Second Voice". It was filmed on location in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, and at Lee International Film Studios, London.
In 1988, George Martin produced an album version, featuring more of the dialogue sung, with music by Martin and Elton John, among others; Anthony Hopkins played the part of "First Voice". This was subsequently produced as a one-off stage performance (as An Evening with Dylan Thomas) for The Prince's Trust in the presence of HRH Prince Charles, to commemorate the opening in December 1992 of the new AIR Studios at Lyndhurst Hall. It was again produced by Martin and directed by Hopkins, who once again played 'First Voice'. Other roles were played by Harry Secombe, Freddie Jones, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Siân Phillips, Jonathan Pryce, Alan Bennett and, especially for the occasion, singer Tom Jones. The performance was recorded for television (directed by Declan Lowney) but has never been shown.
In 1992, Brightspark Productions released a 50-minute animation version, using an earlier BBC soundtrack with Burton as narrator. This was commissioned by S4C (a Welsh-language public service broadcaster). Music was composed specially by Trevor Herbert and performed by Treorchy Male Voice Choir and the Welsh Brass Consort. Producer Robert Lyons. Director, Les Orton. It was made by Siriol Productions in association with Onward Productions and BBC Pebble Mill. This was released on DVD in October 2008. DVD ref: 5 037899 005798.
In February 1994, Guy Masterson premiered a one-man physical version of the unabridged text at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh playing all 69 characters. This production returned for the subsequent Edinburgh International Fringe Festival and sold out its entire run. It has since played over 2000 times globally.
In 1997, Australian pianist and composer Tony Gould's adaptation of Under Milk Wood (written for narrator and chamber orchestra) was first performed by actor John Stanton and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.
In November 2003, as part of their commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Thomas's death, the BBC broadcast a new production of the play, imaginatively combining new actors with the original 1954 recording of Burton playing "First Voice". (Broadcast 15 November 2003, BBC Radio 4; repeated 24 December 2004.) Digital noise reduction technology allowed Burton's part to be incorporated unobtrusively into the new recording, which was intended to represent Welsh voices more realistically than the original.
In 2006, Austrian composer Akos Banlaky composed an opera with the libretto based on the German translation by Erich Fried (Unter dem Milchwald, performed at Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck, Austria).
In 2008, French composer François Narboni composed an opera, Au Bois lacté, based on his own translation and adaptation of Under Milk Wood. It was created at the Opéra-Théâtre in Metz, France, with staging by Antoine Juliens. The work is for twelve singers, large mixed choir, children choir, accordion, dancer and electronics sounds.
In 2008, a ballet version of Under Milk Wood by Independent Ballet Wales toured the UK. It was choreographed by Darius James with music by British composer Thomas Hewitt Jones. A suite including music from the ballet was recorded by Court Lane Music in 2009.
In 2009 and 2010 a translation in Dutch by the Belgian writer Hugo Claus was performed on stage by Jan Decleir and Koen De Sutter on a theatre tour in Belgium and the Netherlands (e.g. the Zeeland Late-Summer Festival, the Vooruit in Ghent, etc.).
In 2010, a one-woman production of the text was performed at the Sidetrack Theatre in Sydney, Australia, presented by Bambina Borracha Productions and directed by Vanessa Hughes. Actress Zoe Norton Lodge performed all 64 characters in the play.
In July 2011, Progress Youth Theatre (Reading, Berkshire, UK) performed a stage adaptation of the radio script. All visual aspects, such as stage directions, costume, set and lighting design were therefore devised entirely by the youth theatre. The voice parts were shared equally among seven actors, with other actors playing multiple "named" parts (with the exception of Captain Cat, who remained on stage throughout the production).
The BBC Formula 1 introduction to the 2011 Singapore Grand Prix featured extracts of the audio for their opening VT.
In 2012, the Sydney Theatre Company staged a production starring Jack Thompson as First Voice and Sandy Gore as Second Voice, with a cast including Bruce Spence, Paula Arundell, Drew Forsythe, Alan John, Drew Livingston and Helen Thomson. The production was staged in the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House.
In 2012, Gould's 1997 adaptation of Under Milk Wood (written for narrator and chamber orchestra) was again performed by actor John Stanton as part of the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School's inaugural performance at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Gould played piano and worked with the students as a musical mentor.
Guy Masterson of Theatre Tours International has produced and performed a solo version of the play over 2000 times since its world premiere in 1994. It has been performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1994, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2010; in Adelaide, Australia in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012; and in London's West End Arts Theatre.
In October 2014, the BBC launched an interactive ebook entitled Dylan Thomas: The Road To Milk Wood, written by Jon Tregenna and Robin Moore. It deals with the journey from Swansea via the BBC to New York City and beyond.
- 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, fishingboatbobbing sea. – opening lines, spoken by First Voice
- We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood – prayer of the Reverend Eli Jenkins
- Black as a chimbley! – Third neighbour
- Me, No-Good Boyo is up to no good... in the wash house. – Nogood Boyo
- I am going into the darkness of the darkness forever. I have forgotten that I was ever born. – Rosie Probert
References in other media
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- Paula Rego won the Slade Summer Composition Competition in 1954 with her oil on canvas, Under Milk Wood. View online at Paula Rego UMW
- The album Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood" (1965) by The Stan Tracey Quartet, is one of the most celebrated jazz UK recordings and has been described as "one of the finest British jazz albums ever made". In 1976 the work was later recorded again, with Donald Houston reading all parts and integrating them into the original suite.
- The album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) by The Kinks was inspired partly by Under Milk Wood, according to its creator, songwriter Ray Davies. Also, the Kinks song "Polly" contains the line "pretty Polly Garter".
- Walter Steffens wrote the opera Unter dem Milchwald using Erich Fried's German translation. It was world premiered at the Hamburg State Opera in 1973 under the baton of Marek Janowski and staged again by Staatstheater Kassel in 1977 on the occasion of the opening of the documenta 7.
- The album Starless and Bible Black (1974) by King Crimson, as well as the instrumental title track, is named after a phrase used in the opening of the play (noted in the Quotations section above). The phrase "Starless and Bible Black" is also referenced in the song "Starless" on the follow-up album Red (1974).
- The Deutsche Grammophon album We'll Keep a Welcome (2000) by Bryn Terfel includes a setting of Eli Jenkins' Sunset Poem set to music by A. H. D. Troyte, arranged by Chris Hazell.
- Hedwig Gorski's 2015 radio drama 13 Donuts was inspired by Under Milk Wood and the poet claims Thomas as her major inspiration and influence.
- Frank Zappa quotes, though not precisely, the passage about Mr. Pugh's plans to poison his wife during a 1979 London performance of "Nanook Rubs It," which appears as part of a "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" medley on the live album You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1 (1988).
- The Decemberists' song "Billy Liar" (2004) includes references to the character of Nogood Boyo and his fantasy of Mrs. Dai Bread Two and the corset.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld country of Llamedos is a reference to Llareggub.
- The indie-rock band Evans The Death, formed in London in 2011, take their name from the undertaker.
- Another operatic adaptation, Under Milk Wood: An Opera, setting a shortened version of the text of the play, was composed by John Metcalf and premiered at Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea in 2014.
- Thomas, D.N. (2003) Dylan Remembered 1914-1934,p 165, Seren
- Letter to Meurig Walters, written in Blashford, Hampshire, 28 March 1938 in Collected Letters.
- Thomas’ Collected Letters show that the family lived for eighteen months in Gosport Street and Sea View, Laugharne, between May 1938 and July 1940, and for three months in the Castle in 1941. They did not return to live in Laugharne until May 1949.
- Richard Hughes in Thomas D.N. (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-1953 p75 Seren, and also Hughes' review of Under Milk Wood in the Sunday Times, 7 March 1954.
- Fitzgibbon, C. (1965) The Life of Dylan Thomas pp266-67, Little Brown.
- Cleverdon, D. (1954) in the Radio Times, 22 January. It has to be said that Cleverdon is not consistent in his dating of work on the play.
- in Thomas D.N. (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-1953 p187, Seren.
- W. Wilkinson (1948) Puppets in Wales, Bles.
- Davies, W. and Maud, R. eds.(1995), Under Milk Wood: the Definitive Edition, Everyman.
- Thomas lists some of these characters in his letter of 29 August 1946 to Margaret Taylor.
- The Life of Dylan Thomas, 1965 p237, Little Brown
- Ackerman, J. (1979) Welsh Dylan p127, Seren.
- See the letters of 24 May, 29 May, 5 June, Collected Letters.
- The "cocklewomen webfoot" also appear in Thomas’ letter to Margaret Taylor written in South Leigh in October 1948, Collected Letters.
- See his letter of 3 August 1947 from Elba, Collected Letters.
- See his letter to his parents, 19 July 1947, which reads: "I want very much to write a full-length – hour to an hour & a half – broadcast play; & hope to do it, in South Leigh, this autumn." And another to John Ormond 6 March 1948: "A radio play I am writing has Laugharne, though not by name, as its setting."
- Lycett, A. (2004) Thomas Untutored in Oxford Today, 16, 2, Hilary.
- Thomas, D. N. (2004) Dylan Remembered 1934-1953, pp294-295, Seren, and also at South Leigh
- (1) Burton, P. (1953) untitled, Dylan Thomas Memorial Number in Adam International Review. (2) Tape recorded interview in the Jeff Towns Collection. (3) Letters to Douglas Cleverdon, 9 October 1967 and 26 February 1968
- Thomas, D.N. (2020) Under Milk Wood: A Play for Ears. Some Reflections on T. Rowland Hughes, Philip Burton and Dylan Thomas, New Welsh Review, May. And online at Burton and Thomas
- The lines about Organ Morgan playing for nobody and playing for sheep are both found at the very end of the play. See Davies and Maud op. cit. p61.
- Thomas, D. N. (2004) Dylan Remembered 1934-1953, pp160-164 and 295-296, Seren, and also at </milk wood Prague. Taken from Hauková's Memoirs: Záblesky života (1996), H&H, Jinočany.
- Curnow, A. (1982) Images of Dylan, NZ Listener, 8 December.
- See his various letters 1950-1953 about failing to work on the play e.g. his 6 January 1953 letter to Gwyn Jones: "I've been terribly busy failing to write one word of a more or less play set in a Wales that I'm sad to say never was…" He wrote to Charles Fry in February 1953, complaining that, apart from the 'Prologue' for Collected Poems, he had not been able to write anything for a whole year. A memo from David Higham, his agent, also in February 1953, noted tersely: "He hasn't made any progress on the Llareggub things."
- On 10 March, at the university. For an account by the journalist Alan Road, see Thomas, D.N. (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-1953 p. 302.
- For an account, see Thomas, D.N. op. cit. p. 304
- Brinnin, J. (1955) Dylan Thomas in America, pp211-213, Avon
- Desultory: Davies and Maud, op.cit. p82.
- Thomas, D.N. op. cit. p306
- Cleverdon, D. (1969) The Growth of Milk Wood pp35-38
- Becker, R., A Memoir, in the Constantine Fitzgibbon archive, Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas at Austin.
- An account of Thomas' death can be found in Thomas, D.N. (2008) Fatal Neglect: Who Killed Dylan Thomas?, Seren, with summaries at dylan's death.
- see Thomas, D.N. (2008) Fatal Neglect: Who Killed Dylan Thomas?, Seren pp7-48.
- The play’s cast noticed Thomas’ worsening illness during the first three rehearsals, during one of which he collapsed. Brinnin was at the fourth and was shocked by Thomas’ appearance: "I could barely stop myself from gasping aloud. His face was lime-white, his lips loose and twisted, his eyes dulled, gelid, and sunk in his head."
- Letters to John Ormond 6 March 1948 and Princess Caetani, October 1951
- Thomas, D.N. (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-1953, chapter 2, Seren, and at the play's inspiration
- But see (1) Davies, J.A. (2000) Dylan Thomas’s Swansea, Gower and Laugharne, University of Wales Press. (2) Tregenna, J. (2014) If He Were Still With Us (Dylan’s Laugharne – Still Strange), Bloomsbury. (3) Lewis, M. (1967) Laugharne and Dylan Thomas, Dobson.
- Of his four years at the Boat House, more than a quarter were spent in America and Persia, and much of the rest in London or travelling the country to read poetry or to broadcast on the radio. Aeronwy's comment: A. Thomas (2009) p21
- Cleverdon, D. (1969) The Growth of Milk Wood, p4 Dent. Cleverdon, who produced the first BBC broadcast in 1954, wrote that Llareggub's topography "is based not so much on Laugharne, which lies on the mouth of an estuary, but rather on New Quay, a seaside town...with a steep street running down to the harbour."
- Dylan's Llareggub map at The National Library of Wales's website.
- There are a number of available publications about the town’s maritime history: and residents. (1) S. Passmore (2012) Farmers and Figureheads: the Port of New Quay and its Hinterland, Grosvenor House. (2) R. Bryan (2012) New Quay: A History in Pictures, Llanina Books. (3) W. J. Lewis (1987) New Quay and Llanarth, Aberystwyth.
- Thomas, D.N. (2019) Llareggub and the 1939 War Register, at Llareggub-and-the-1939-war-register
- Snodgrass, Dorothy (21 December 2010). "Review: Under Milk Wood at the Library". The Berkeley Daily Planet. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
- See Dylan-and-the-town-that-was-mad
- For example see on YouTube by Welsh actor Richard Burton, at time 0:39
- The Burning Baby. Dated October 1934 in the "Red Notebook" and first published in the magazine Contemporary Poetry and Prose, issue for May 1936. This information listed by Walford Davies in Dylan Thomas: Collected Stories. Phoenix, 2000.
- J. Brinnin (1955) Dylan Thomas in America, Avon p132
- Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, The Definitive Edition (Dent: 1995), p. 91.
- "The Dylan Thomas Trail at New Quay". www.newquay-westwales.co.uk.
- For details on the play’s publication in Botteghe Oscure, The Observer, Mademoiselle and Les Lettres Nouvelles, see R. Maud (1970) Dylan Thomas in Print, which also gives details of Erich Fried’s translation.
- For an interview with Jones, see Jones
- Caedmon TC 2005: liner notes to 2-LP set. This reading has been reissued as part of an 11-CD boxed set of Dylan Thomas from the Caedmon Collection, but without the detailed cast listing or very extensive original liner notes, which clarify that Thomas was still rewriting the script until the time the performance began. This would explain any discrepancies in the text between this draft and the final published version. "Evans the Death" is here identified as "Thomas the Death".
- "Under Milk Wood. Credits". BBC. 2014.
- "Programme Information. Under Milk Wood" (PDF). BBC Wales. p. 3.
- Dylan Thomas: The Collected Letters edited by Paul Ferris. Macmillan 1985. Footnote by editor.
- "Dylan Thomas Unabridged: The Caedmon Collection", Green Man Review. Archived 30 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine
- Prix Italia "PAST EDITIONS — WINNERS 1949 – 2007" Archived 3 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- Yorkshire Post, 11 February 1954
- The Stage, 4 March 1954
- S.W. Lawrie (1994) Dylan Thomas's Work in German Translation online at Lawrie
- BBC Genome BBC Genome
- The Stage, 18 November 1954 and The Western Mail 15 November 1954.
- "Under Milk Wood". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
- Reviewed by John Rozentals, Oz Baby Boomers, 5 July 2010.
- Lloyd Bradford Syke, "Review: Under Milk Wood | Drama Theatre, Sydney", Crikey, 29 May 2012.
- "Theatre Tours International: Olivier Award Winning Powerhouse UK based -International Touring Theatre Company". www.theatretoursinternational.com.
- Under Milk Wood (TV Movie 2014), retrieved 22 August 2017
- "BBC Dylan Thomas: The Road to Milk Wood by BBC on iBooks". iBooks.
- Ackerman, John (27 July 2016). Dylan Thomas: His Life and Work. ISBN 9781349243662.
- "Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood", UK Jazz.
- Gorski, H. (2015), 13 Donuts, Jadzia Books, 2015: Introduction.
- "You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1". www.globalia.net.
- (www.waters-creative.co.uk), Waters Creative Ltd. "Based on the original play for voices by Dylan Thomas". www.taliesinartscentre.co.uk.
- Dylan Thomas's two sketch maps of Llareggub at library.wales
- The writing of Under Milk Wood
- Under Milk Wood and Dylan Thomas' death
- Text of Under Milk Wood, from Project Gutenberg Australia.
- South Leigh residents talk about Dylan Thomas
- Under Milk Wood on IMDb
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation Creative Instinct documentary "The trials of Milk Wood"