The Radio Play

 

before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.

 

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Under Milk Wood was first performed as a radio play in New York on May 14th 1953. There is no plot as such; no linear narrative of events leading to a conclusion. Instead, Under Milk Wood follows the trials and tribulations of the inhabitants of a small Welsh fishing village, Llareggub, throughout one day and the audience is invited to follow them into their dreams from reality and back again as the night draws in and we follow their every move.

A narrator invites the audience to listen, for a day, to the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of a fictional small Welsh fishing village Llareggub.

They include Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, relentlessly nagging 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 awakens and, aware now of how their feelings affect whatever they do, we watch them go about their daily business.

The audiences are voyeurs, party to every bit of action in the village. The characters are eccentric and wild and yet also very human. The crux of this play is that the audience is invited to laugh at these people, at their quirks and their naiveties.

Thomas had earlier plans to write a Welsh Ulysses and stylistic parallels can be drawn between Joyce and Thomas: the use of a twenty four hour cycle in the town’s life, the use of puns and verbal inventiveness and the audience’s view of the characters as seen through the eyes of the narrator.

During his last days in New York in November 1953, while making cuts in the script of Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas expressed his wish to prepare a literary version of the play. Unfortunately the poet’s untimely death left us with an Under Milk Wood cast as a radio play commissioned by the BBC, and broadcast posthumously on 25 January 1954.

 
 

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