Under Milk Wood

Written by Dylan Thomas

Thurs 4th December - Sat 6th December & Thurs 11th December - Sat 13th December 1980

Directed by John Scadding

Subtitled 'A play for voices' and completed just before his death in 1953, this work gives the fullest expression to Thomas' sense of the magnificent flavour and variety of life. A moving and hilarious account of a spring day in a small Welsh coastal town, 'Under Milk Wood' is lyrical, impassioned and funny.

AuthorDylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas (1914 - 1953)

A poet and writer, Thomas is widely regarded by many literary scholars as one of the Twentieth Century's most influential lyrical poets, and amongst the finest of all time. His acclaim is partly due to the idiosyncratic and surreal introspection which was his hallmark. His imagery is said to be brilliant and inspirational. Although Dylan was primarily a poet, he also published film scripts, short stories, publicly performed his works and conducted radio broadcasts. His best-known works include the play for voices, 'Under Milk Wood' and the celebrated work for his dying father, 'Do not go gentle into that good night'.

Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea at the outbreak of the First World War, the son of a grammar-school master with a poetic talent who had dreamt of better things. Dylan absorbed his father's way with words, along with a capacity for drink. After school, rejecting university, he started work on the local paper in 1931. He moved to London in 1934 and there met his future wife Caitlin, 2 years later. They married in 1937 and had 3 children, but their relationship was tempestuous.

Thomas was famously an alcoholic and his taste for whisky was well-known. When he was found dead in New York in 1953, many rumours surfaced that the drink had done for him, yet an autopsy revealed it was more likely that pneumonia had finally killed him. His body was buried in Wales and he leaves a body of work consisting of 18 poems, 2 plays, 15 works of prose and various other essays.

PlayUnder Milk Wood

The play is set below Milk Wood, in the fictional small seaside town of Llareggub (bugger all, backwards). The action of the play takes place during the first day of the Spring. There is no plots as such, but a narrator invites the audience to listen to the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of the town. They include Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, relentlessly bossing 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 wakes and, aware now of how their feelings affect whatever they do, we hear them go about their daily business.

Thomas read a part of the script in public for the first time in Cambridge, Massachusetts at The Poetry Centre in 1953. Soon after, with others, he sound-recorded a performance in Manhattan. In the September of that year, he delivered a full draft of 'Under Milk Wood' to the BBC as he left for a tour of America, intending to revise the manuscript on his return - however he died before coming back to England. The play was first broadcast by the BBC in January 1954, two months after his death.

The Bench Production

Under Milk Wood poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Captain CatTony Adams
Polly GarterRobbie Cattermole
Organ Morgan/Sinbad SailorsJim Charlton
Mog Edwards/Mr OgmoreDerek Cusdin
Mr Waldo/Lord Cut GlassChris Hall
Mr Pritchard/Mr PughFred Jeffries
Cherry Owen/Nogood BoyoAlan Knight
Mrs Beynon/Mrs Dai Bread TwoJean Lee
Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard/Bessie BigheadEve Moore
Rev Eli JenkinsJon Philpot
Goassamer Beynon/Mrs Cherry OwenRosalind Riley
Mrs Pugh/Mrs Organ Morgan/Mae Rose CottageJill Sawyer
First VoiceNicola Scadding
Dai Bread/Mr BeynonBrian Smith
Mary Anne Sailors/Rosie ProbertJanet Simpson
Mrs Dai Bread One/Lily SmallsDebbie Ward


Director John Scadding
Lighting Alastair Hynd
Set Design Chris Shaw
Front of House Sheila Spackman

Director's Notes

Being of a certain age, I remember the day after he died, the preacher in Chapel asking us to pray for the soul of Somebody-or-other Thomas - and I remember us turning sneakily to each other to ask who the heck was he? A fortnight later they did his play on the radio but we didn't actually listen to it as it sounded a bit too arty crafty for us but as the years went by, we did hear it. We heard it and read it - and quote it repeatedly.

And so my love-hate relationship with Milk Wood started. I have loved it and hated it for twenty seven years now. I have loved the funny sayings and hated purple passages but mostly I have skipped bits of it. On the page and on record I would enjoy a bit of it and then get fed up with it and not finish it. It all seemed a lot of bits and pieces with infuriatingly funny lines and no dramatic necessity for me to want to finish it. I always considered it the last minute ravings of a talented alcoholic, scribbled off quickly before drinking ten whiskies and deservedly dying. In fact I considered it a rag-bag potboiler written for a quick eighty quid and undeservedly successful. I thought like a lot of Shakespeare, people pretended to like it, but actually didn't.

And yet the damned thing wouldn't go away and would perpetually sit there in my Production list of plays to be tackled someday, smug beneath 'Cherry Orchard' and snug above 'Crichton'. And there it has stayed, taken out, half-read, half-dusted and chucked back in again to be vilified and quoted - "Oh it's Dylan, Dylan all the time with you - Bach!".

Until I was looking for a script for this December production. I offered this play to the Selection Committee for two reasons. I wanted to do a play that everyone could be in it that wanted to. And so it is this evening - and I wanted to have a go at solving the Milk Wood Mystery. Is it a good play? Is it really worth doing? Is it a play as all in fact? And all the other questions. Well I write this note halfway through out investigations - November 7th it is today - and I'll tell you this - I think it's brilliantly well made, it's the opposite of a rag-bag, it's a two-toned diamond, it's packed with struggle and drama, full of Life Wish and Death Wish and if it comes out twee and bitty then it's cos we haven't got it yet! This is one of the most annoying, infuriating, brilliant scripts I've had a go at yet. I hope we all finish up pleased with it.

In the belief that this play was written to exploit the imaginations of the audience, this production deliberately reverts to the author's earlier intentions.

John Scadding


The News F.N.

Bench gives a controlled performance

The dreams, fears and memories of a small Welsh town came to Havant last night in the Bench Theatre's production of Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood' at Havant Arts Centre. The play which captures a day in the life of the seaside town of Llaregyb, proved a difficult task for the Players, who overcame the restrictions of the intense poetic dialogue and brought rhythmic fluidity in the longer descriptive sequences. There is no single plot to the work. Instead, Thomas' narrative presents a wide spectrum of characters, each with his or her own story. Director John Scadding controlled the peaks and lulls in the script allowing the cast to develop the vivid Thomas caricatures such as Captain Cat, Nogood Boyo, and Lord Cut Glass, without letting the players take the characterizations too far. Even in parts where the production seemed slow, the cast worked hard to so justice to the heavy script.

In its best moments 'Under Milk Wood' came alive with vitality and eloquence. A well deserved credit should be paid to Nicola Scadding who found both tenderness and strength in her role as narrator. Strong performances came from Tony Adams as the blind Captain Cat and Gill Sawyer who handled the transition between her three characters with expertise. The tiered set, which was designed and constructed under the supervision of Chris Shaw, gave actors the freedom to make even the most subtle movement as effective as the incredible romping children sequence in which 16 players leap about in a schoolyard game.

'Under Milk Wood' was first produced as a reading by Dylan Thomas in New York in 1953. The Bench Theatre's production is based on a longer version of the play which was written for radio. Under Milk Wood' will be presented at Havant Arts Centre, East Street tonight and tomorrow night and on December 11, 12 and 13.

The News, 5th December 1980

Production Photographs