Smartly dressed actors took up their positions behind classic 1950s BBC microphones, the special effects people were poised for action at their desk and the standby light glowed at the back of the famous Lime Grove Studios stage.
Suddenly the floor manager appeared, to explain this was a live transmission and encourage us to laugh and react to what we were about to see and hear, before he gave the five second countdown to the red ON AIR sign.
Hasland Theatre Company successfully recreated a moment of broadcasting history as the BBC’s Home Service broadcast Dylan Thomas’ groundbreaking play for voices, Under Milk Wood.
The Welsh poet died three months before the celebrated BBC airing, in January, 1954, which had Richard Burton as the first voice, or main narrator, assisted by a second voice.
Hasland’s production this week, skilfully directed by Valerie Ryan, conveyed not only the thrill of being in a live studio recording, but brought to life Thomas’ array of more than 30 characters populating the Welsh fishing village of Llareggub, with wit as sparkling as the sun dancing on its waves.
Rob Dean, as the sole narrator in this version, introduced the idiosyncratic inhabitants one by one, their lives and loves described in the lyrical, ebbing and flowing lines but given breath by a cast of 14.
The very names have a sing-song quality to them, Organ-Morgan, Gossamer Beynon, Mr and Mrs Willy-Nilly, Polly Garter and Sinbad Sailors.
During our night and day in the village, we learned of the poisonous intentions of the hen-pecked Mr Pugh towards his haranguing wife, of the Sailor’s Arms, where the clock has been stuck on 11.30 for 50 years and it’s always opening time, and of sour widow Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, ‘who goes to the kitchen to polish her potatoes’.
While this was a reading from scripts, there was much to enjoy in the gestures, facial expressions and excellent Welsh accents of the cast. With so many roles, it’s difficult to single out individuals, so full credit to Jono Holloway, Darren Siseman, Kay Haws, Rob Peach, Tom Bannister, Maggie Phelan, Thomas Brassington, Rosemary Smith, Leila Hunt, Rachel Schofield, Bev Dean, Lindsey Coombes and Noelene Wilkins.
I went along intrigued by the prospect of how this would be staged, and came away impressed by an imaginative, convincing piece of theatre. A good start to Hasland’s new season.
Under Milk Wood continues through to Saturday, September 21, at 7.30pm. Box office: 01246 272271.