A small, brittle paged copy of Under Milk Wood, sits in my book case. A faded blue/green photograph of a town by the sea on the cover- and on the back, a price tag (from a long time ago) says “$1.60.” The pages are yellow – especially around the edges, like an old man’s white moustache stained with nicotine. As a child, I remember my father, in a brown velvet chair, musing on the sound of Richard Burton’s voice on a Sunday afternoon. Later, in my first year of University, I purchased a sturdy, (second hand) hard cover copy from Gleebooks, and sent it home for fathers day…

Fifty-six years since it was written, the text remains in the collective consciousness. Dylan Thomas’ classic play for voices lifts poetry out of the private ruminations of head bowed, eyes down soft murmers or the dutiful literature students- and is propelled on stage by collaborators Vanessa Vanessa Hughes and Zoe Norton Lodge in a new production at Sidetrack Theatre.

At the box office we are told that we can keep our jackets on- and on the seats of sidetrack Theatre, folded fleecy rugs, are staggered one between two, one between three…

The white floor, scattered with tiny white houses are lit up in a warm yellow glow. Lace tablecloths hang from a clothesline, three small boats hang from the ceiling, a ladder, a bathtub, a chair. It’s the opposite of the usual black space- luminous. Clean. Like freshly starched shirts. A voice starts from the shaddows, light like that of a ghost- “To begin at the beginning- ”

Harnessing all 64 characters- an unassuming actor in white overalls – Zoe Norton Lodge. A full- steam- ahead, at times thunderous voice, that melts sweetly and then bellows in the following breath. Surrounded by huge projections, occasional video, cardboard installations Norton Lodge has a world set up- at times she is the all seeing, all hearing, all speaking first voice- a giant amongst the tiny houses and at others she is the townsfolk heavy with secret yearnings and lusty urges. Suddenly the town has voice- multi-coloured voices in shimmering varied timbres ring out of Norton Lodge’s mouth like bells from the church lead by The Rev. Eli Jenkins.

There is much to commend in this production- and I can’t help but acknowledge the resonances I have with the text- which seems to be a resonance that Norton Lodge also shares- a connection with her father. I believe it is essential for all artists to invest in the stories that they believe in- wholly and completely- stories that make them the people they are, the artists they are. And so often I see work which is mounted which seems to be devoid of any personal connection- shows mounted because of their status as the hot playwright of International status- of a play which comes with it a hand full of star-studs to put on the poster. This is a play which means something to the artists- and it’s not showing off- that shows bravery- to reveal something of yourself- something as intimate as your childhood bedtime story.

There is also the fascinating aspect that this is a play written by a man, traditionally spoken by a man- and in this one woman version- we see or hear something new… a woman’s perspective. Whilst the men of the town are ghosts, a Reverend, blind, lost, obsessive organists- the women are filled with great yearning- an earthy, deep, grounded lust. Not wildly hysterical- but sexy. Thumbnail sketches of lives- that do as lives should- live. Complicated, horrifically beautiful, sweet songs sung by children as the drink-soaked confessions seep out of reluctant hearts.

At times the pace is somewhat overly rapid, aggressively attacked- and the finer, silken threads of poetry are sacrificed- leaving me a little lost amongst the sea of characters. But ,the sheer impressiveness of the stamina, and focus of sustaining 90 minutes of 64 characters is worth the ticket price. Some may feel that the production is fairly safe- it is a fairly truthful and respectful telling of the tale. Delivered in Welsh accent- neatly physicalized. There are no shocks, this adaptation is not trying to shock or disturb- though the text ht right at the heart of the conflict between the public and the private confessions of a town- where no one is unscathed from being exposed as a coward, a drunk, a thief, a banshee, a whore, a repulsive lover.

This is a lyrical and visually poetic adaptation- a love letter to family- to the memory of being read to, a love letter to a feel of “home.” If nothing else- there is something comforting about being nestled in a fleece rug- phone off- lights dimmed- having the play recited to you. There is a feeling of tender offering from Hughes and Norton Lodge- a little piece of story- delivered with care and caution to those willing to take the time to listen.