Under Milkwood is performed annually at the Dylan Thomas Theatre by the Little Theatre Company. This year the play was performed up to the same high standard that we have grown to expect.
When Dylan Thomas was staying in Wales in New Quay one winter, he went out early one morning into the still sleeping town and verses came to his mind about the inhabitants. He wrote the account of this as a short story named Quite Early One Morning (recorded for BBC Wales 14 December 1944 and broadcast 31 August 1945). He continued to work on the idea for eight years.
In Quite Early One Morning there are numerous ideas and characters which would be developed more for Under Milk Wood. For instance, the short story includes a 28-line poem of which this is the fourth verse (the name and the final line reappear in Under Milk Wood).
Open the curtains, light the fire, what are servants for?
I am Mrs Ogmore Pritchard and I want another snooze.
Dust the china, feed the canary, sweep the drawing-room floor;
And before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.
Thomas wrote to his wife, Caitlin, (about 23 May 1953, from the USA, on notepaper headed The Poetry Centre), towards the end of a long letter 'I've finished that infernally eternally unfinished 'Play' & have done it in New York with actors.'
The same year, he read a part of the script in public for the first time in Cambridge, Massachusetts at The Poetry Centre. Soon after, with others, he sound-recorded a performance at the 92nd Street YMCA in Manhattan.
On 9 September 1953, he delivered a full draft of Under Milk Wood to the BBC as he left for a tour of America, intending to revise the manuscript on his return.
Dylan Thomas is reported to have commented that Under Milk Wood was developed in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, as a way of reasserting the evidence of beauty in the world
The play opens at night, when the citizens of Llareggub are asleep. The narrator (First Voice/Second Voice) informs the audience that they are witnessing the townspeople's dreams.
Captain Cat, the blind sea captain, is tormented in his dreams by his drowned seafellows, who long to live again and enjoy the pleasures of the world. Mog Edwards and Myfanwy Price dream of each other; Mr. Waldo dreams of his childhood and his failed marriages; Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard dreams of her deceased husbands. Almost all of the characters in the play are introduced as the audience witnesses a moment of their dreams.
Morning begins. The voice of a guide introduces the town, discussing the facts of Llareggub. The Reverend Eli Jenkins delivers a morning sermon on his love for the village. Lily Smalls wakes and bemoans her pitiful existence. Mr. and Mrs. Pugh observe their neighbors; the characters introduce themselves as they act during their morning. Mrs. Cherry Owen merrily rehashes her husband's drunken antics. Butcher Beynon teases his wife during breakfast. Captain Cat watches as Willy Nilly the postman goes about his morning rounds, delivering to Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, Mrs. Pugh, Mog Edwards and Mr. Waldo ("It's another paternity summons").
At Mrs. Organ-Morgan's general shop, women gossip about the townspeople. Willy Nilly and his wife steam open a love letter from Mog Edwards to Myfanwy Price; he expresses fear that he may be in the poor house if his business does not improve. Mrs. Dai Bread Two swindles Mrs. Dai Bread One with a phony fortune in her crystal ball. Polly Garter scrubs floors and sings about her past paramours. Children play in the schoolyard; Gwennie urges the boys to "kiss her where she says or give her a penny." Gossamer Beynon and Sinbad Sailors privately desire each other.
During dinner, Mr. Pugh imagines poisoning Mrs. Pugh. Mrs. Organ-Morgan shares the day's gossip with her husband, but his only interest is the organ. The audience sees a glimpse of Lord Cut-Glass's insanity in his "kitchen full of time". Captain Cat dreams of his lost lover, Rosie Probert, but weeps as he remembers that she will not be with him again. Nogood Boyo fishes in the bay, dreaming of Mrs. Dai Bread Two and geishas.
On Llareggub Hill, Mae Rose Cottage spends a lazy afternoon wishing for love. Reverend Jenkins works on the White Book of Llareggub, which is a history of the entire town and its citizens. On the farm, Utah Watkins struggles with his cattle, aided by Bessie Bighead. As Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard becomes asleep, her husbands return to her. Mae Rose Cottage swears that she will sin until she explode.
As night begins, Reverend Jenkins recites another poem. Cherry Owen heads to the Sailors Arms, where Sinbad still longs for Gossamer Beynon. The town prepares for the evening, to sleep or otherwise. Mr. Waldo sings drunkenly at the Sailors Arms. Captain Cat sees his drowned shipmates-- and Rosie-- as he begins to sleep. Organ-Morgan mistakes Cherry Owen for Johann Sebastian Bach on his way to the chapel. Mog and Myfanwy write to each other before sleeping. Mr. Waldo meets Polly Garter in a forest. Night begins and the citizens of Llareggub return to their dreams again.
Next week the Dylan Thomas Centre celebrate with a week of Dylan Thomas related performances and talks.