The Year of Dylan is beginning to feel a behemoth. Symposia and colloqiua, at least one more tour, are to come. Theatr Iolo has performed a service in pointing to a part of the prose that has so far received small attention. The Aber audience had a reader of the stories from a long way back who wondered about the tone. But transcription across the genres can never be replication. Theatre’s first obligation is to itself and Kevin Lewis’ production is rambunctious and vivid. It also gives insight into the oeuvre with many a whisper of work to come.
Lucy Gough’s adaptation begins in Wales. Matthew Bulgo is seated stage rear with his head slumped forward. Jenny Livsey is draped over a cupboard that is part of Neil Davies’ delicious ramble of a set. She, Ceri Elen and Ceri Ashe act as a kind of chorus with darting lines tinged in poetic exclamation. Oliver Wood is Samuel Bennett, not yet twenty, with a habit of hoarding finger-nails and ear wax. He is prompted to remember to taste his tears. On the journey east he exhibits a selfishness, emblematic of the author, in hogging the train’s lavatory and denying access to a fellow passenger in discomfort.
“Adventures in the Skin Trade” takes off when the action moves to Praed Street at the back of Paddington, now a place of sleek wealth but then a hub for London’s Cardi-dominated milk trade. The set comes into its own as new acquaintance Richard Nichols’ Donald guides the Dylan ingenue to his set of rooms stuffed with furniture. It includes a jar big enough to hold a man. Donald has a leaning towards philosophising but is earthbound enough to have downed forty-nine Guinnesses in a single session.
The city is a harsh place, the adjoining premises having been site for a violent suicide. The Candide-like Samuel is led on a picaresque journey in search of an elusive female contact. For much of the action he has a beer bottle stuck to his little finger. He encounters stentorian-voiced café owner Mrs Darcy. Seductive Polly, with cadences of “Under Milk Wood”, lures him to a tin tub and gives him eau de cologne to drink. The tub is knowingly numbered “42.”
The ensemble goes off to explore some louche night life. Dylan Thomas was little of a proto-feminist and the roles for women are those of either matron or Eros. Oliver Wood is left at the women’s hands bereft of clothing but with his pork pie hat left for his modesty. The London adventures, or misadventures, are animated and dependent on the presence of Matthew Bulgo. His George is a marvellous plummy bohemian in his bowtie and check suit. He and the ensemble are given some loping movements- Jem Treays movement director. George expatiates on his preference for Wordsworth over Walter de la Mare. Learning that his new acquaintance hails from Wales he enquires “Oh, do you know Tintern Abbey?”