Tom Jones as Captain Cat, Michael Sheen as First Voice, Katherine Jenkins as Polly Garter, Bryn Terfel as Reverend Eli Jenkins and Jonathan Pryce and Sian Phillips as Mr and Mrs Pugh – could there be a more exciting wish-list for Under Milk Wood?
Add Matthew Rhys, Charlotte Church, Aneurin Barnard, Eve Myles and Robert Pugh – as well as a host of others – into the mix, along with a dollop of modern-day technology, and you get a new star-studded, cutting-edge version of Dylan Thomas’ ‘play for voices’.
But this is no fantasy. These stars of the acting and music worlds have teamed up for an hour-long TV adaptation about the colourful characters from the fictional fishing town of Llareggub.
And executive producer Bethan Jones says they were only too keen to get on board and become part of BBC Cymru Wales’ centenary celebrations for the Swansea-born poet.
“We just thought, ‘ Who are the people we’d love to work with on this?’ and just went for it,” she says. “We were asking them as part of the Dylan Thomas centenary and they felt they wanted to be involved. Those who were not available were really disappointed.”
While some asked if they could perform certain roles – Sheen wanted to deliver the famous opening lines, for example – others were more than happy with the parts they were offered.
“We asked Tom Jones to do Captain Cat and we were really thrilled when he said yes, it was the icing on the cake. He’s fabulous and there’s a real humour. We also asked Bryn Terfel to do Eli Jenkins. The reverend delivers the beautiful Sunset Poem which I know Bryn has sung in the past so it was a no brainer to ask him to do it.”
Under Milk Wood was filmed in a wealth of locations, including Laugharne, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Cardiff, and the focus is on the words, with the cast delivering their lines up close to the cameras and directly to the audience. There are no sets, props or costumes.
“It’s almost like a no frills version which is really concentrating on the text,” says Ms Jones. “There’s a real sense of love and enjoyment in the words. There are some beautiful performances. The cameras are very close up to the actors so they are delivering the words straight to you. You’re hearing sections of text you almost didn’t know existed.”
Directed by Pip Broughton and also starring Ioan Gruffudd, Alexandra Roach and Iwan Rheon, the film is also a celebration of 21st century technology with some of the cast delivering their lines via Skype and others using their mobiles to film performances. It features Dylan’s favourite watering holes from both sides of the Atlantic, with Matthew Rhys delivering his words (as one of the narrators) at the White Horse Tavern in New York and Aimee-Ffion Edwards (another narrator) based at Brown’s in Laugharne.
As each of the iconic characters joins in, the piece builds up into a collage of famous voices and faces.
Under Milk Wood is the first collaboration between BBC Cymru Wales and National Theatre Wales and woven into the dialogue will be evocative imagery created in Laugharne as part of NTW’s live performance, Raw Material: Llareggub Revisited, which will take place during the May Bank Holiday weekend. And audiences watching the live performances will get a preview of the film – which will be broadcast on May 5, just hours after the final NTW show – when snippets are screened.
While there have been countless performances of Under Milk Wood, Ms Jones hopes the new film will introduce it to a new generation thanks to the cast list and use of new technology – and entice those who may not think it’s for them.
“We’ve got a real cross section of performers– big stars like Tom Jones, Michael Sheen, Matthew Rhys, Jonathan Pryce and Sian Phillips, and those who are young and at the start of their careers like Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Aneurin Barnard and Craig Roberts.” So would Dylan approve?
“I hope so – we’re using technology and a sense of the love of the words so I think it would appeal to him.”
By Karen Price for Wales Online