Monday, November 21, 2011

Voices from the edge of the sea

Ever since my student days in Australia, I've been fascinated by Under Milk Wood, the celebrated play for voices by the Welsh author Dylan Thomas, who died in New York at the age of 39. The play reveals the acts and sentiments of a few dozen citizens of the mythical Welsh seaside village of Llareggub ("bugger all" spelt backwards), which is said to be based upon the real place, Laugharne, where Dylan Thomas spent the four final years of his life.

The title of this blog post—Voices from the edge of the sea—needs a short explanation. I've spent very little time in Wales (purely as a tourist), whereas I happen to be far more familiar with small seaside villages a little further to the south, in Brittany. And I like to imagine that the spirit of many Breton villages, looking out across the sea towards the British Isles, would be on a par with that of Llareggub, for the people in such places surely end up sharing the same kinds of visions and phantoms. For example, I can well imagine Milk Wood being located on the slopes above Plouézec, in the Côtes d'Armor.

Or, better still, above the tiny magical fishing port of Gwin Zégal:

Maybe my son François, who's a more experienced traveler than me, and a more expert witness, will tell me if he agrees with my amalgam of sites on the edge of that Celtic sea (once crossed in flimsy boats by ancient saints disseminating their faith) that separates Britain and Ireland from Brittany.

The Internet provides us with an excellent opportunity of appreciating this audio creation. Towards the end of the present blog post, I've included eight YouTube videos that present a BBC production of Under Milk Wood starring the Welsh actor Richard Burton. If you need the full text of the play, you can download it from this Gutenberg website. And here's a list (from Wikipedia) of the major characters in Under Milk Wood, which you can consult while listening to the play:

Captain CatThe old blind sea captain who dreams of his deceased shipmates and lost lover Rosie Probert. He is one of the play's most important characters, as he often acts as a narrator. He observes and comments on the goings-on in the village from his window.

Rosie Probert
Captain Cat's deceased lover, who appears in his dreams.

Myfanwy Price
Sweetshop-keeper who dreams of marrying Mog Edwards.

Mr Mog Edwards
Draper, infatuated by Myfanwy Price. Their romance, however, is restricted strictly to the letters they write one another and their interactions in their dreams.

Jack Black
Cobbler, who dreams of scaring away young couples.

Evans the Death
Undertaker, who dreams of his childhood.

Mr Waldo
Rabbit catcher, barber, herbalist, cat doctor, quack, dreams of his mother and his many unhappy, failed marriages. He is a notorious alcoholic and general troublemaker, and is involved in an affair with Polly Garter.

Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard
Owner of a guesthouse, who dreams of nagging her two late husbands. She refuses to let anyone stay at the guesthouse because of her extreme penchant for neatness.

Mr Ogmore
Deceased, Linoleum salesman, late of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard.

Mr Pritchard
Deceased, failed bookmaker, late of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard. He committed suicide "ironically" by ingesting disinfectant.

Gossamer Beynon
Schoolteacher (daughter of Butcher Beynon), dreams of a fox-like illicit love. During the day, she longs to be with Sinbad Sailors, but the two never interact.

Organ Morgan
Church organ player, has perturbed dreams of music and orchestras within the village. His obsession with music bothers his wife intensely.

Mrs Organ Morgan
Shop owner who dreams of silence, as she is disturbed during the day by Organ Morgan's constant organ-playing.

Mr and Mrs Floyd
Cocklers, an elderly couple, seemingly the only couple to sleep peacefully in the village. They are mentioned only during the dream sequence.

Utah Watkins
Farmer, dreams of counting sheep that resemble his wife.

Ocky Milkman
Milkman, dreams of pouring his milk into a river, 'regardless of expense'.

Mr Cherry Owen
Dreams of drinking, and yet is unable to as the tankard turns into a fish, which he drinks.

Mrs Cherry Owen
Cherry Owen's devoted wife, who cares for him and delights in rehashing his drunken antics.

Police Constable Attila Rees
The policeman, relieves himself into his helmet at night, knowing somehow he will regret this in the morning.

Mr Willy Nilly
Postman, dreams of delivering the post in his sleep, and physically knocks upon his wife as if knocking upon a door. In the morning they open the post together and read the town's news so he can relay it around the village.

Mrs Willy Nilly
Postman's wife who, because of her husband's knocking upon her, dreams of being spanked by her teacher for being late for school. She assists Willy Nilly in steaming open the mail.

Mary Ann Sailors
83 years old, dreams of the Garden of Eden. During the day she announces her age ("I'm 83 years, 3 months and a day!") to the town.

Sinbad Sailors
Barman, dreams of Gossamer Beynon, who he cannot marry because of his grandmother's disapproval.

Mae Rose Cottage
Seventeen and never been kissed, she dreams of meeting her "Mr Right". She spends the day in the fields daydreaming, and unseen, draws lipstick circles around her nipples.

Bessie Bighead
Hired help, dreams of the one man that kissed her "because he was dared".

Butcher Beynon
The butcher, dreams of riding pigs and shooting wild giblets. During the day he enjoys teasing his wife about the questionable meat that he sells.

Mrs Butcher Beynon
Butcher Beynon's wife, dreams of her husband being persecuted for selling "owl's meat, dogs' eyes, manchop".

Reverend Eli Jenkins
Poet and preacher, who dreams of Eisteddfodau. Author of the White Book of Llareggub.

Mr Pugh
Schoolmaster, dreams of poisoning his domineering wife. He purchases a book named "Lives of the Great Poisoners" for ideas on how to kill Mrs Pugh; however, he does not do it.

Mrs Pugh
Nasty and undesirable wife of Mr Pugh.

Dai Bread
Bigamist baker who dreams of harems.

Mrs Dai Bread One
Dai Bread's first wife, traditional and plain.

Mrs Dai Bread Two
Dai Bread's second wife, a mysterious and sultry gypsy.

Polly Garter
Innocent young mother, who dreams of her many babies. During the day, she scrubs floors and sings of her lost love.

Nogood Boyo
Lazy young fisherman who dreams peevishly of 'nothing', though he later fantasizes about Mrs Dai Bread Two in a wet corset. He is known for causing shenanigans in the wash house.

Lord Cut Glass
Man of questionable sanity, who dreams of the 66 clocks that he keeps in his house.

Lily Smalls
Dreams of love and a fantasy life. She is the Beynons' maid, but longs for a more exciting life.

Gwennie — Child in Llareggub, who insists that her male schoolmates "kiss her where she says or give her a penny".

To listen to the entire play, you'll need to dispose of an hour and a quarter. It's truly worthwhile...

PART 1/8

PART 2/8

PART 3/8

PART 4/8

PART 5/8

PART 6/8

PART 7/8

PART 8/8

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