DT – the final word.

Nearly fed up of the various Dylanothons or other Laugharniferous verbo-frenzies? Then look away now. I’m going in there for one last gloopy submergence; right in to the heron-stalked sticklebacked, reedy pockmarked estuarine slap of it. Fondling the cockles and snorting in the brilliant, briny green bay-ness. Because there’s something life-affirming in there, something wonderfully open. Isn’t there?

With Dylan, you either get it or don’t. Okaaay, we can say that of everything but what I mean is Thomas is seemingly destined or well-equipped to polarise. There are legitimate calls either way – he can be a pompous, adoration-seeking preacher or a deliciously boozy revolutionary – your call. You could hate him for that ridiculous voice, booming and faux (post elocution lessons) and for his dumb wading (or wallowing?) in the highbrow and the posh. Or you could melt, melt into the stream, the malt, the whisky that is Thomas at his finest.

I do know proper Welsh folks who simply cannot get past that voice, mind; I struggle myself. Because it reeks of a kind of appallingly grasping aspiration towards god-fearing elevation and therefore, well… private schools and hops and horses and England. How can anyone who sounds like that – like he’s auditioning for the RADA/BBC of the forties – be anything other than a complete nob? How, mun? Even if Thomas was effectively auditioning, more or less desperately, for the holy grail of paid work at the Beeb or elsewhere for much of his short career, Dai the Bomb of Solva won’t buy the sub-Etonian in-tone-ay-shunns. You need then, to be seduced past the bombast.

But what, pray, if you are (for example) a feisty gel minded to strike out at the poet’s diabolical treatment of ‘the women in his life’? Or immediately suspicious of anyone who needs a bevvy or eighteen to flush out the creative urge? Or anti-welsh? Or magnificently bright but favour the lean, the skeletally insightful, the tight-arsed prose of contemporary favour? Let’s face it, there are lots of ways to skin the Thomas cat.

Then there’s his status, which in the minds of some may convey instant naffness – ‘cos people love him. Ordinary peeps – yes, those trackie-wearing plebs, those lottery ticket-buying donkeys – some of them too, love Thomas because of those words; not from study but from the whiff or memory of Dylan and of something shared in the air.

Naturally (and maybe I do mean this as a sociological observation) the Welsh intuit or ‘get’ or tap in to something that hums between the landscape and the bloke here. Visitors to the province or the works may of course enter the kingdom of Llarregub or the teenier but no less compelling worlds of Fern Hill or A Child’s Christmas on production of a sherry-stained visa or perhaps just a big daft, responsive heart. Once in, all do feel welcome, I think.

There’s a fascinating link between this now iconic Welshman with his ‘ailing lung’ and the national sport of immersing in song. Is it that Thomas captures something pleasingly characteristic which has a particular rhythm? Certainly – but difficult to specify whether that rhythm is just felt or (even) trace how it springs from the page. The sensation is maybe received musically, as though in an alcohol-stimulated ‘glow’ – which again appeals to most of us as a notion as well as an experience. This should not however deflect us from acknowledging the imaginative power and prodigious intellect at work.

But let’s be honest, it’s more or less accessible poetry – sing-song – that wins us over. Does that make it merely… saccharoidal? No. The greatest triumph and therefore best example – Under Milk Wood – is way too rich for that. Popular sure but also funny, sexy and profoundly beautiful. I’ve been this way before but please do sit and draw in the magnificent windows-opening-simultaneously ‘bible black’ of the Michael Sheen opening to the 2014 Beeb Wales version. (Link in a previous blog – may no longer be available there!) It’s spellbindingly wonderful. Find it and stay with the entire production if you can. Here is all the proof you need, brilliantly understood, superbly executed.

This recent Under Milk Wood is excitingly contemporary as well as true to the work. It brings the words to life far better than Thomas himself could through his own readings. The Sheen masterclass is merely the precursor to a sustained execution of the poetry of this remarkable play. For me it’s then obvious – emphatic. Dylan Thomas may have been an incorrigible scrounger or duplicitous or worse but his legacy stands triumphant and triumphantly against cynicism. If you want to make the argument that this stuff is centred upon hypocrisy then crack on; for me what is left… is not for cynics. It’s for humanity and joy and I believe in it.

Tuning right in let me say I know Laugharne well and can tell you that both the place itself and the writer himself make sense almost explosively, in some fabulous deep fashion, if you park yourself on a bench beneath (say) the castle walls. The estuary village is both quietly delightful and throbbing with daft stories but it needed to be written to be.

Nowhere have I been that gave the epiphanic thwack that standing by the Writing Shed in Laugharne offers. Under Milk Wood – and plenty else – becomes viable, thinkable, familiar and goes scorching to the very heights of word-as-document, as expression of the gorgeous. Both the sound of it and the glorious human warmth of Milk Wood embed it in the hearts of millions the world over. It’s unique in a way that’s at once a lot of fun and stylistically beyond (as we say in Wales.) Meaning it’s both entertaining and bona fide as a work of art.

This is my 200th post and I wanted to write about something important- to me. I love the madness and the boldness in Thomas. I love that being a palpably inadequate bloke, he blazed a trail, he made something mighty and essentially generous. Turn to Under Milk Wood and find his vindication, his moment. Here most obviously he surely floods out beyond local stereotype into things universal; foibles, the workaday truths, the daily poisons, love.

Thinking whilst writing of Thomas, I have been reminded of Joan Miro’s determination to ‘pursue the golden sparks in his soul’ – something I wrote about some moons ago. I said of the Catalan genius

He knew his purpose was to make a poetic response to experience. And he did it for decades. Call me an old tart, but I find that inspiring.

Thomas lacked longevity – that ailing lung failed him. But he had that drive towards the wondrous and I salute him too.

Under Milk Wood. Inna BBC Wales stylee.

To begin at the beginning. Michael Sheen is quietly electrifying, like the night itself. Tom Jones twinkles and twitches amiably, like some sea-faring, rabbit-nosed cat king. Jonathan Pryce poisons the missus (and vice-versa,) only she lacks the manual. And Charlotte Church’s sheets are surely as virtuous and polar a white as it says, there, there in those voiced words; in the silken, cobblestone rap of it.

Sorry. Fa-ar too tempting to slip into sub-Llareggubian; the language of herons and otters and shouting dogs and oh, people – the living and the dead. In the lush, daft, dusky, gloriously humdrum thrall of that beautiful, rippling world, who wouldn’t? When the warmest and bestest of Welsh Wales are up there, winking at us – who wouldn’t be seduced?

I am. Whilst knowing enough of this dumpy oddball Thomas to intellectually challenge that ludicrous pomp, that selfishness, that (arguably?) misogynist micro-creed of his. Whilst being the bloke who (o-kaay, metaphorically) pours a pint over him, for his braying, his idleness, his middle-classness.

Despite the despites I confess that for me Dylan still breaks right out and runs off giggling, wheezing, to hide in some upturned boat. Incorrigible bastard that he is, he’s probably still there, swigging something gross but writing something else that’s utterly life-affirming; for which we must forgive him. Something beautiful, fearless and inviolably good because – whatever the inadequacies of the man – it’s flooded with supreme and undeniable warmth.

This BBC Wales/National Theatre Wales version of Under Milk Wood is seductively good not because it is flawless or universally beautifully performed (though in its predominantly purple passages it does have that quality) but because it simply gets Thomas. And Laugharne and all that defying of the banal – and the humour of his language and the web-footed lives of the protagonists. It gets all of that beautifully.

Here though, a necessary note. I say protagonists rather than characters aware of the difficulty some have with the writer’s neglect for building or ‘developing’ ‘character’. But I’m with Thomas, refreshed, in fact by his inspired cartoons in this and nearly every instance.

Relax. I don’t make an argument for suspension of normal critical faculties so much as a plea to listen and to allow the poetry of the thing (remember that?) to do its work. The contemporary, over-thunk, painfully work-shopped calibration of meaningful events-in-the-life-of thing is just one end of the spectrum, no? (One that often feels deadly to me, if I’m honest.) I for one make no apology for sharing the instinct and predilection for unreasonable colour; defying the banal. The essence of this Dylan Thomas stuff is love of life.

The current BBC Wales production is brilliantly as well as lavishly cast, bringing together a fabulous and familiar but authentic posse of Welsh talent. Most clearly revel in it – and again, who wouldn’t? Apart from the above-named stars the likes of Katherine Jenkins and Bryn Terfel are called upon, in both cases to sing as well as act – briefly. Casting the former, in the role of Polly Garter, was deliciously sharp. You may find yourself caught between laughing or letching but I predict you will generally be caught, somewhere in the gambol.

The notes (on BBCiplayer – go within the next three days!) describe, somewhat pretentiously, a ‘community’ of Welsh performers. This sounds counter to both the notion and actuality of a production linking/sharing points and people ‘twixt L.A. and Laugharne itself. (Laptops are as key to this as erm… lapwings). We, the audience, are bounced between places which are essentially locations only for the words; a bedroom; a car; a room with a view over Llareggub. Meaning the actors faces and those words (only) carry us. But there is something shared here, and yes, I’m thinking something of the communal about the evident, joyful, raising of the actor’s game. We are wrapped within it, as are they.

Hard and probably wrong to single out moments or performances. (Go see, you fools!) However, Sheen’s opening monologue is magnificently compelling. It’s authoritative and true – big-league in a good way like Gareth Bale back from Real for an exhibition match at The Liberty (say). Playing absurdly stunningly but with humility.

I may be wrong but I like to think that Sheen bought in to the idea of this as a both a national event and a privilege – and one in which he led. He would know that the myths and loves around Dylan Thomas and Wales are so inseparable in their big-hearted, boozy expressivity that there is a feeling of something essential here, beyond any literary or poetic quality the work may have.

The production itself is smart enough to offer a glimpse or two of actors watching other actors. So as Sheen begins the capture, we see or sense there is delight and maybe a touch of awe in the excitement of the watching troupe. It’s – in this case – a delightful device. Inspiring, I imagine, for the supporting cast.

But please do watch. Watch and mainly listen. If unfamiliar don’t go in there thinking there’s any real action. It’s just words. I would argue it’s freeing and even revelatory for those who read or write at all – and I do mean at all – but waddoo I know? I’m the sort of bloke who smiles when folk (well, the dead) ask

Is there bosoms and robins?
Fightin’ an’ onions?

Or when the town gossip screeches
Who’s Dead? Who’s dyin’?
There’s a lovely day – aaaw the cost of soap flakes!

But waddoo I know?

I know there’s something powerful caught here, in Under Milk Wood; still.

I’ve watched this production three times and tried to calm down and say something sensible and articulate and mature. But I am undone by smiles. The thing is a triumph and a joy. It’s there to be felt and heard. Thomas feels hilariously, possibly weirdly relevant to a Wales that is as sassy and starlit – or as dumb and dusky – as the next place. 100 years on from his birth, Laugharne(I know) is still beautiful and sleepy and murderously awash with gossip and treachery and love that divides as well as binds. Like everywhere.

So how is it unique? Simple answer… because of the voices. Voices that this poet, Dylan Thomas, from a writing shed overlooking the Taf, really heard, really felt.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p01x5k4n/ – do watch!!