Monday, 7 April 2014

To Begin At The Beginning

The news that the play "Under Milk Wood" is being done as an opera caught the eye and gave a jolt to the memory.  How well the opera works and whether it is a success or not is in the lap if not of the gods then at least the audiences.

Wales has retained a good deal of its varied musical interests although it is removed from The Land Of Music that once it was.  But this piece is an interesting choice as opera because in its original form it may have been poetic verbal with incidental sound but there was a clear lyricism to the words and expression.

Dylan Thomas, like many others from that period has gone well out of fashion.  Once dangerously and seditious modern works have now retreated into a never never land between the new modern and the old traditional.  The late 40's and 50's are now a period we prefer to forget.

The memory lurch was that in late 1956 I turned up in London and playing rugby inevitably found myself among a group of Welshmen.  One evening when the beer money was short it was cheaper to go a theatre and they were anxious to see Under Milk Wood done as a play rather than as sound on the radio.

It was at the New Theatre, later the Albery, now the Noel Coward.  I wonder what Dylan would make of this connection to his piece which was as far removed from Noel Coward then as you could get. 

It ran for seven months, long enough for the Welsh in London to have a chance to see it, but as an unusual and distinctive play did not attract the usual West End audience.  None the less it was a striking performance and Donald Houston, I think, was the narrator.  Huw Griffiths perhaps was in the cast.

Unluckily despite the power of the internet I have yet to turn up a full cast list and wonder whether Richard Burton was involved.  One has to be careful of "false memory" because you think you would have liked him to be in the play.

This was a time when not only were there cohorts of the Welsh in London, but substantial numbers of Irish and Scots and across both the classes and locations.  There were some leanings, the Welsh to education, the Irish to health and the Scots to police, government and jobs that involved bossing people about.

This did lead to some stereotyping at the time, which was then routine and not punishable by law.  One of the consequences of the developments of recent years is that now when in London to hear those accents is becoming rare events. 

It is almost as if the numbers of other incomers have led to the effective exclusion of many ordinary people from the other parts of the Atlantic Isles.  In that period the idea of the UK included the theory that London was home for large numbers of people from elsewhere in the Atlantic Isles.

If that has effectively ceased then it is little wonder that London is seen to have become another country and the other parts of the Isles have not just begun to drift apart but to see themselves as no part of a London dominated polity.

So is it the beginning of an end?


  1. My aunt had a distant family connection with Dylan Thomas. She said he was a horrible man.

    1. In the mid 50's the Welsh I knew had known people who knew Thomas. The word was that he was difficult arising from his eccentricity and single mindedness.

    2. In the mid 50's the Welsh I knew had known people who knew Thomas. The word was that he was difficult arising from his eccentricity and single mindedness.