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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Curtain up on Milk Wood

By Jon Gower
BBC Wales' arts correspondent Jon Gower

The busy and bustling account of life in the fictional village of Llareggub was given a new lease of life at the Grand Theatre in Swansea on Wednesday evening.

Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood is being staged by the newly-established Wales Theatre Company to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the poet's death.

Matthew Rhys (Photo by John Fry)
Rhys says he feel intimidated taking on 'Burton's role'

The play was originally written for the radio and was first broadcast weeks after Thomas' death in 1953.

Richard Burton played the narrator, or First Voice, and set a benchmark for all subsequent performances.

Matthew Rhys, who has recently appeared in the Conan Doyle TV adventure The Lost World, feels that Burton casts a long shadow.

"It's always slightly intimidating that you're recreating a part that has been set in stone by Richard Burton and people remember the part because of him," he says.

Playing alongside him as the Second Voice is Nia Roberts. For her the play is also a trip down memory lane:

"When I was a child my mother used to do a lot of readings of Under Milk Wood in public and I just fell in love with the play and the language of the play at a very early age."

Cast of Under Milk Wood (Photo by John Fry)
The cast take the play onto Cardiff before New York

The director of this latest production, Michael Bogdanov doesn't think you have to do much to animate the play for the stage, in part because the words are so lively.

"It's fascinating that the world's greatest radio play is actually the best known piece of Welsh theatre and is performed on stage all around the world," he says, "and it's a testimony to just how visual it is that it has become more popular on stage than as a radio play."

Performing Under Milk Wood will be an uphill struggle for the actors as the play is staged on an artificial hill with a four-in-one slope which has meant some of them wearing kneepads during rehearsal.

Michael Bogdanov says: "It is a bit hard on the thighs and ankles but they're getting used to it."

The play travels to Cardiff after its run in Swansea before going on a tour of the principal UK theatres in the New Year.


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