Under Milk Wood
By Dylan Thomas
Over the course of the season, our assistant directors and student dramaturgs will be compiling dramaturgical resources relating to each production as it develops. Below are some links to websites which relate to the history of the play, the biography of the playwright, and sites that contextualize and, we hope, shed light on the directorial approach to the dramatic material.
We hope you find these resources of interest.
Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914 - November 9, 1953)
Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales, in 1914. An introverted child, he kept to himself and his books, devouring works by poets such as W.B. Yeats, and Edgar Allan Poe. His affinity for poetry could not keep him in school, however, and he dropped out at the age of 16 to take up a job at the local newspaper. As a teenager, still at the cusp of his young adult life, Thomas immersed himself in his own works.
Many people, both in Wales, England, and the United States were drawn to his poetry for it’s lyricism and Romantic qualities. After publishing a few of his poems, Thomas started to become well known and respected. Some of his most famous poems include Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and And Death Shall Have No Dominion. Of course, his most famous piece of work, Under Milk Wood, was his real claim to fame, as it was 20 years in the making.
Thomas’s adulthood consisted of many hours traveling back and forth between Wales, London, and NYC, drinking heavily, and meeting with fans. He married Caitlin Macnamara (with whom he had a tempestuous marriage), and had many alleged affairs with other women while he was in the States. He and Caitlin had one daughter, Aeronwy, and two sons, Llewelyn and Colm.
Dylan Thomas died in New York City at the Chelsea Hotel on November 9, 1953, supposedly after consuming 18 glasses of whiskey. After his death, many accused a doctor, Milton Feltenstein, of hastening Dylan's death (Dylan was a possible diabetic) by giving him undisclosed amounts of cortizone, benzedrine, and morphine. He is survived today by his grandchildren Hannah and Huw Dylan Ellis. The Dylan Thomas Centenary was held in England, Wales, and throughout the world in 2014.
My Father’s Places, a memoir by Aeronwy Thomas.
About the Play
In 1931, Dylan Thomas wrote a small piece of dialogue between a woman and her husband that was very reminiscent of characters later found in Under Milk Wood. This is said to be the conception of the the play, but it wasn’t until a year later that Thomas even had the idea of creating a “play for voices”.
Initially called The Town That Was Mad and later called Llareggub, A Piece of Radio Perhaps, what is now called Under Milk Wood was originally a radio play. The work is essentially a compilation of bits and pieces of Thomas’ life. Some characters have minor links to his childhood (for example Billy Swansea: Swansea being his place of birth).
It is rumored that one of Thomas’ pieces, Quite Early One Morning, inspired the idea of listening in on a town at the quietest, subtlest parts of its day. Thomas wrote Quite Early One Morning in the winter of 1944 as he walked around New Quay and listened to the town wake up.
The setting of Under Milk Wood is a sea-side town named Llareggub (“Bugger all” written backwards), where many characters, some funny and some melancholy, live out their lives. Listeners (and later, viewers, when the show was adapted for the stage and screen) become privy to the lives of these characters and how they interacted with one another in their dreams and in reality.
After first being aired in 1954 on BBC, the play gained widespread recognition, and has now been performed across the world in countless different styles. The locals in Wales revere the play so highly that the town of Swansea has a holiday called Under Milk Wood Day. They have even erected a statue of one of the play's most famous characters, Captain Cat, and it stands in Swansea, looking over the fishing dock.