Under Milk Wood was the last of Dylan’s works, but in many ways, the culmination of them. It was written for radio and is told through narration and a host of eccentric characters. However, although he created the masterpiece, Dylan’s role in the play’s rise to fame was relatively small. He took part in only nine, both solo and small cast, performances of the play before his death in November 1953 and then it was Richard Burton’s (another famous Welsh man) captivating tones that led global audiences to “Love the words”.
You can find out more about the Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton connection here.
Click here or on the pictures above to visit the National Library of Wales’ Under Milk Wood online exhibition that includes Dylan’s sketch of Llareggub.
Below are pictures and videos that you can click on that demonstrate the lasting legacy of Dylan Thomas’s writing. This blog focuses on his play-for-voices and the influence it has had on writers, poets, actors, artists and musicians. Enjoy a interactive sixty-five year journey of Under Milk Wood.
Under Milk Wood on the Air Ways
On 25th January 1954, Under Milk Wood was broadcast on the BBC radio show, Third Programme. Richard Burton was First Voice and Dylan’s friend, the musician, Daniel Jones, wrote the music. Some of the seemingly cruder parts of the play were not used. It was repeated two days later.
It was revised and re-recorded, with many of the original cast on 11 October 1963.
It was then left for forty years until 2003, the fiftieth anniversary of Dylan Thomas’s death, when an updated BBC recording was made with a new cast including Sian Phillips, Matthew Rhys and Ruth Jones but still retaining the voice of Richard Burton.
Click here or on the picture to learn more about the Third Programme broadcast.
Click here or on the picture to listen to Richard Burton as First Voice.
Click here for a synopsis of The Growth of Milk Wood written by the BBC director Douglas Cleverdon.
Under Milk Wood In Print
Under Milk Wood was first published by Dent in both the UK and USA in 1954; Daniel Jones edited both editions.
An acting edition was published in 1958.
A Welsh language adaptation, Dan y Wenallt, translated by T James Jones, was first published in 1968.
Walford Davies and Ralph Maud joined forces in 1995 to produce Under Milk Wood The Definitive Edition. Using a variety of sources, they have adapted the play to how they envisage Dylan would have completed it. Dylan did not have the chance to edit, or make any final revision of the text, before his death. The changes they have made include the amalgamation of the First and Second Voices into one voice, headed ‘First Voice’.
Click here or on the picture to look inside the e-book to see a sample and read Walford Davies’ introduction.
The play has never been out of print. It is estimated that Under Milk Wood has been translated into at least 30 languages to date.
Under Milk Wood in Digital Format
In October 2014, the BBC launched an interactive ebook entitled Dylan Thomas: The Road To Milk Wood, put together by Jon Tregenna and Robin Moore. It deals with Dylan’s journey from Swansea via the BBC to New York City and beyond.
Click here or on the picture for the free download Dylan Thomas – The Road to Milk Wood.
Under Milk Wood on the Stage
The play has become a world wide sensation, with many productions every year. Here are some of the highlights.
- A memorial production in New York in late 1953.
- Richard Burton and others perform extracts from Under Milk Wood at a gala for the Dylan Thomas Memorial Fund at the Globe Theatre, London on 24th January 1954.
- The first complete UK stage reading of Under Milk Wood took place at the Old Vic, again featuring Richard Burton on February 28th 1954.
- In November 1954, a stage production took place in Geneva, arranged to commemorate the first anniversary of Dylan’s death.
- The first full stage production took place in the United Kingdom, opening at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle on Tyne on August 13th 1956. It then transferred to the Edinburgh Festival on August 21st 1956, and then visited Liverpool, Swansea, and Cardiff, before going to the West End where it ran for seven months.
- It opened on Broadway for the first time, at the Henry Miller Theatre on October 15th 1957.
Click here or on the picture to see the Henry Miller Theatre programme which includes a glossary of Welsh terms!
A Welsh language adaptation of the play, Dan Y Wenallt, was made by T James Jones in 1968. In 2014 Jones revisited the work and produced a revised translation.
T James Jones talking in Welsh about Dan Y Wenallt.
In 1971, Under Milk Wood was performed at Brynmwar Comprehensive School. It was created and brought together by the students at the school and nearly every character was acted by the pupils themselves. It ran for a week.
On 13th December 1992 a one-off stage performance (based on an album version of the play) was produced by Sir George Martin and directed by Anthony Hopkins for The Prince’s Trust. It was called An Evening with Dylan Thomas and HRH Prince Charles was in attendance. It was to celebrate the opening of the new AIR Studios at Lyndhurst Hall. The play included: Anthony Hopkins as First Voice, Freddie Jones as Captain Cat, Mary Hopkins as Rosie Probert and Victor Spinetti and Siân Phillips as Mr and Mrs Pugh. It was recorded by Crysalis Television but never shown.
Sir George Martin with Dylan Thomas’ daughter Aeronwy.
Click here or on the picture to read a BBC news article where Sir George Martin remembers the 1992 production.
In February 1994, Guy Masterson, the great nephew of Richard Burton, carried on the family tradition, and premiered a one-man production of Under Milk Wood at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. It has since played over 2000 times across the world and is still going strong.
Click here or the pictures to visit Guy Masterson’s website.
- 2003 – Numerous productions to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Dylan’s death.
- In 2009 and 2010 a Dutch translation of the play adapted by Hugo Claus was performed on stage by Jan Decleir and Koen De Sutter on a theatre tour in Belgium and the Netherlands.
- In 2010 a one-woman production, performed by Zoe Norton Lodge took place at the Sidetrack Theatre in Sydney, Australia.
- In 2012 the Sydney Theatre Company staged a production in the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House.
2014 – The centenary of Dylan’s birth – Dylan Thomas 100.
- Theatre Clwyd’s professional tour of the UK with Owen Teale as First Voice.
- Llareggub Revisited – A site specific production based in Laugharne and put together by the National Theatre of Wales.
- A one off performance on October 26th 2014 at the 92Y in New York with Michael Sheen as First Voice.
Click here or on the picture for the Guardian five star review of Theatr Clyde’s production.
Click here or on the picture to see photos of Raw Material: Llareggub Revisted.
Click here or on the picture to see visit Raw Material: Llareggub Revisted website.
Under Milk Wood on the small screen
The first television production of the play was broadcast by the BBC on May 9th 1957. It starred Donald Houston as First Voice.
There was a further production featuring Donald Houston in 1964.
In 1992, S4C created an animated version of the play including a recording of Richard Burton as First Voice.
On 15th November 2003, the BBC broadcast a new production of the play on Radio 4 linking new actors with the original 1954 recording .
In 2008, the animated Under Milk Wood was reissued on DVD.
A BBC television version was broadcast in 2014 featuring an all-star cast with Michael Sheen as First Voice.
Click here or on the picture to see a preview of the 2014 TV version of Under Milk Wood.
Under Milk Wood on the Big Screen
In 1971 Under Milk Wood was directed by Andrew Sinclair, starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole. It was filmed in Fishguard in Wales and released on January 27th 1972.
Click here or on the picture to watch Andrew Sinclair recalling working with Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Click here or on the picture to watch Andrew Sinclair explain why Lower Fishguard was the perfect location for filming Under Milk Wood.
In 2014 a new film was directed by Kevin Allen with Rhys Ifans taking on the roles of First Voice and Captain Cat. A Welsh language version based on Dan y Wenallt was recorded at the same time.
Music versions of Under Milk Wood
On May 8th 1965, Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood Jazz Suite was recorded at Landsdowne Studios.
In 1988, a musical version of Under Milk Wood was recorded by Sir George Martin involving many well known actors and musicians including: Anthony Hopkins, Harry Secombe, Tom Jones, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Siân Phillips, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Pryce. The music was composed by George Martin, Elton John, Mark Knopfler and others. It was re-released on CD in 2003.
In 2006 Austrian composer Akos Banlaky composed an opera using the German translation adapted by Erich Fried.
In 2008, Francois Narboni composed an opera, Au Bois lacté. He used his own translation and adaptation of Under Milk Wood.
In 2008 a ballet version of Under Milk Wood was created by Independent Ballet Wales and toured the UK.
In 2014, the play was turned into an opera written by the Welsh composer John Metcalf.
Art versions of UMW
The artist Sir Peter Blake spent nearly thirty years creating illustrations for Under Milk Wood. The work was exhibited at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff to mark the beginning of Dylan Thomas 100 – a year long festival to celebrate the birth of Dylan Thomas – and opened in October 2013.
In late 2016 and early 2017, actor Martin Oelbermann joined forces with artist Chris Riddell in a two man show. Martin played all the characters while Chris complimented him by illustrating the action.
Seimon Pugh-Jones started exhibiting his character portraits in 2016. They are based on real people that have played the roles for the amateur drama group, Laugharne Players.
Click here or on the picture to view an Guardian article about the exhibition.
Click here or on the picture to read Martin Oelbermann’s blog about the show.
Seimon Pugh Jones’s portrait of Captain Cat based on John Bradshaw.
And to finish…
A Few Weird, Wacky and Wonderful uses of Under Milk Wood
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968) is reportedly partly inspired by Under Milk Wood.
The phrase “Starless and Bible Black” is used in the song ‘Starless’ (1974) by King Crimson.
A Volkswagen car advert from 2007.
Cerys Matthews version of The Reverend Eli Jenkins prayer (2014)
Hannah Ellis – 21st August 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – www.lovethewords.co.uk