Dylan Thomas: Clown in the Moon returned to the Torch Theatre on 17th April, four years after its original tour of Wales for the centenary of Dylan Thomas’ birth. The one man show is created by an award-winning team, writer Gwynne Edwards (Burton, Dylan Thomas in America) and director Gareth Armstrong (Shylock, Burton, Wilde about the boy) as well as being co-produced by Swansea Grand Theatre. Rhodri Miles is the iconic Welsh poet who charts his climb to fame from the familiar and nurturing Swansea landscape, to the studios of London and the busy streets of New York.
Miles has just finished an award-winning run of Burton with Gwynne Edwards and Gareth Armstrong, where he plays screen legend Richard Burton, who coincidentally also starred in Thomas’ play Under Milk Wood. It seems that Miles is made to portray iconic Welsh men, (he joked that after this he will be ‘running out of Welsh iconic figures to play’) a role which if done wrong leaves the actor exposed to the audience, but if done right, can have an incredibly powerful effect, bringing to life the wit and wisdom of lost talent.
The set is the dimly lit, smoky interior of a 1940’s BBC broadcasting studio, including a felt covered acoustics table, chair and microphone with iconic red light. At the side of the stage, a desk is scattered with papers and books, Thomas’ briefcase resting as if left there when returning from one of his many journeys to London.
Armstrong ensures the play is nicely paced, at 80 minutes divided by an interval, with some of Dylan’s famous broadcasts alongside his vivid reminiscences of clownish antics in pubs and bars and encounters with eccentric and volatile women.
From the moment Miles first strolls onto the stage, staring out at the audience, his expression curious, a cigarette pressed to his lips, he becomes Dylan. He treats us like an old friend, telling us his stories, revealing his secrets, sharing his work. We listen to Dylan’s broadcasts, as if hearing his work for the first time.
Gwynne Edwards’ clever writing creates a Dylan whose trademark poetic style is in his every essence, in the words of the stories he tells, the observations he makes and memories he recalls, as much as it is in the poetry itself. This is a man who knows Dylan inside out and doesn’t simply recreate him for the stage. The small team work incredibly well to ensure the production is seamless and believable, gripping the audience from start to finish.
Miles is full of energy and inspiration as he bounces about the stage, singing and laughing, recalling past parties and jokes, the many women of his life, and one in particular from whom he could never escape. This, of course, was his future wife, Caitlin.
As the play moves forward and he talks of the toll of going back and forward to London, the ‘poem less streets’ and pavements that ‘drill down through your feet up to your shoulders.’ he replaces glasses of water with large measures from a hip flask, and we see him reduced to a penniless family man, desperate for fresh inspiration and longing for his Welsh home.
The Welsh feel is there, in his uncanny accent, the broadcasting voice, which with its perfect tone and rhythm could be an original recording, and in his recollection of the Welsh town where he grew up, the simple life he enjoyed as a child, in the passionate poetry he reads including ‘Fern hill’.
The lighting (Maximillian Spielbichler) in this production is extremely effective in portraying the man behind the legend. Miles is captured in spotlight during broadcasting, portraying his professional persona, while harsh lighting reveals the truth behind his public life, as he stumbles about the stage, unravelling the grim realities of the drinking and womanising which surrounded his success.
The final scenes are particularly poignant, as we see Dylan anxious over the first performance of his new play, the infamous ‘Under Milk Wood’. He confesses he finished the final scene as the audience filled the auditorium. We are transported back to the moment when Dylan first read it on stage in America, becoming the audience of the time. Applause plays out over the speakers.
Later, as the stage falls into darkness , an authentic radio broadcast announces the death of ‘The Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas, in America, aged 39′, before continuing on to a weather segment. This brief acknowledgement of the writing legend, reminds us the fickle way of fame, also that Dylan’s work only really began to become widely recognised after his untimely death.
In one of the most effective final scenes of Theatre, Miles recites Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do not go gentle’ as under spotlight he fades into the darkness like a ghost. Here, a poem written for his dying father, is translated into the writer’s passion and drive for life, emphasising the fighting spirit he had throughout his life and particularly approaching death.
Clown in the Moon, is a wonderful tribute to our Welsh wonder. Miles is funny, touching and brutally honest in his portrayal of Dylan. This show gave the rare opportunity to experience a very real Dylan in his own home, far from home and in the spotlight that brought him to life.
Clown in the Moon is touring the UK until the end of May.
Remaining tour dates:
3 SOLIHULL Core Theatre 0121 704 6962 Website
4 CARDIFF RWCMD 02920342854 Website
10 LONDON Redbridge Drama Centre 0208 7088803 Website
19 LLANELLI Ffwrnes 0845 2263510 Website
24 FARNHAM Maltings 01252 745444 Website
“Dylan Thomas: Clown in the Moon” was co-produced by the Grand Theatre Swansea.