Review Round-up: Under Milk Wood, National Theatre



Olivier Theatre, National Theatre. 

Press night: 23 June. 

A community is sleeping. If you listen closely, you can hear their dreams.

The retired sea captain yearning for his lost love.
The landlady living in terror of her guests.
A father who can no longer access his memories.
A son in search of redemption.

As they awake to boiled eggs and the postman, the residents of a small Welsh village juggle old secrets and new realities.

Michael Sheen, Karl Johnson and Siân Phillips feature in the acting company and Lyndsey Turner directs in this Dylan Thomas classic.

What did the critics make of it?

Critic Reviews:

 The Guardian  

The Olivier theatre, in the round, has a cosy feel which suits the nursing home setting and Merle Hensel’s set design, arranged and rearranged with mobile furniture wheeled on at speed, is deft and malleable. Tim Lutkin’s lighting captures the changes from night to day and then to dusk, and is the strongest feature of the stagecraft.
The humour is eked out, as well as the intrigue of sexual passions and marital infidelities (the Pughs’ icy marriage is a highlight). But the drama as a whole – beyond the father and son dynamic of the framing device – remains emotionally distant as one vignette after another is delivered and feels a little wrung out as Thomas’s language loses some of its richness (he died without having revised or edited the piece fully).

Evening Standard  

A charismatic Michael Sheen is part showman, part shaman in this staging of Dylan Thomas’s 1954 radio play, conjuring a Welsh town into lyrical, beguiling life with mostly older actors on a bare stage. Lyndsey Turner’s production marks a triumphant reopening for the National’s Olivier Theatre, where the audience now sits on all sides, a configuration that lends itself to simple production values and a deeper communion between actors and onlookers.


To hear Michael Sheen deliver Under Milk Wood feels akin to witnessing Gielgud's Hamlet or Rylance's Rooster Byron. It is nothing short of theatrically seminal.
As hoped, the poetry is magnificent. He orchestrates Dylan Thomas's posthumously performed masterpiece as a maestro conductor, all waving hands and syncopated rhythm. There are times when his words seem to literally hang in the air, leaving the socially distanced Olivier audience hypnotised. I could listen to him say "Now behind the eyes and secrets of the dreamers in the streets rocked to sleep by the sea…" on loop forever.

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