Such is the pace of Shrewsbury School, so busy its staff and pupils, that the most ambitiously-conceived productions, the fruit of months of collaborative hard work bringing together a huge array of talent, end up as ephemeral creations; three nights, and all is over. Normal life resumes - not of course that it ever stopped: these actors and actresses, this director and stage crew, unlike their professional counterparts, have ‘day jobs’, busy enough without the rich cultural icing that makes schools such as Shrewsbury the extraordinary educational institutions they are.
But the best are ephemeral in a physical sense only. This hugely ambitious and astonishingly well executed production will surely live on in the collective memory of Shrewsbury School as one of its dramatic high points, much indeed as the memories of lost, wronged or never-actualised loves live on in the minds of the villagers of Llareggub (the reversal of whose letters perhaps represents Thomas’s ironic judgement on his own work, or maybe the lives of the villagers), long after the loves themselves have disappeared.
Originally written in 1954 as a radio play, the original Under Milk Wood is, in the words of the Director Heather May’s programme note, "a lavishly lyrical poem, taking us into the minds of snoozing sleepers tucked up asleep one Spring morning in the fictional Welsh seaside village of Llareggub. Two narrators weave their way in and out of the inhabitants’ hopes, dreams and desires as they set about their daily affairs. The day drifts by, filled with gossip and squabbling, learning and longing, until the townsfolk return home to roost and rest back under the covers once more."
The cast of 17, drawn from the Third, Fourth and Fifth Forms, playing up to eight parts each, corporeal and incorporeal (eg, Georgina Cooper: Polly Garter, Mrs Evans, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, Lily’s reflection, Gwennie, Mother 2, Mrs Cherry Owen, Dulcie Prothero) demonstrated in the clearest possible way what an array of talent Shrewsbury School enjoys, and what co-education has made possible. From the moment the actors silently and slowly walked on to populate the enchanting model village, upstairs windows cosily lit to indicate the time of day, Llareggub became the ‘world entire’, pathos and comedy blended into one organic whole - come to think of it, just like life outside Llareggub.
In a performance as collaborative as this one, where there were no minor parts and vignette followed vignette in tightly-controlled profusion, it seems invidious to single out particular performances, so I won’t. This was in fact one of the numerous highlights of the production, that all had their moments in the sun, all mattered, as should indeed be the case in any community - even No Good Boyo.
The set was a visual feast, a Lillipution mix of the miniature and life-size, attention paid to the smallest details; a warehouse full of props, the theatre ingeniously reorganised so as to place the village in the middle of the audience, a great iron bedstead, on which various characters willingly or unwillingly dreamt their dreams, forming its centrepiece.
Rarely have I seen such organic integrity in an amateur production, scene flowing into scene seamlessly, songs and ballet woven into the texture, the performers so evidently (but not too evidently) enjoying themselves, understanding that after weeks of hard graft, they were part of something very special, a community that had become as tight knit as that of Llareggub itself.
So, a wonderful production, which I hope can be revived, whether with these or other performers, and not simply left to live on in our memories, which it surely will. Congratulations to all the performers, the Director, Heather May, and to Adam Wall’s stage crew.
"To begin at the beginning …"
To view more photos from the production, please see: Under Milk Wood - photo gallery