Dylan Thomas: Clown in the Moon, Portman Hall Shillingstone and touring

ARTSREACH, Dorset’s rural arts charity, picked an absolute winner once more with Clown in the Moon, a dramatic portrait of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ chaotic, frequently hilarious and all too brief life. Written by Gwynne Edwards, directed by Gareth Armstrong and starring Rhodri Miles as the poet, this one-man show, located, in part, in a BBC radio studio sometime in the 1940s, sets many of Thomas’ public broadcasts alongside vivid but altogether more personal reminiscences of clownish antics and memorable encounters.

Miles’ performance was mightily impressive, a real tour de force if ever there was one.  I have my student-days’ copy of Miscellany One in front of me as I write and the resemblance between the actor and the poet pictured on the cover is almost uncanny.  Heavy features, unruly hair, bowtie and cigarette of course were all present in Miles’ portrayal, together with Thomas’ compelling facial expressions, characteristic gestures, postures and other mannerisms.  Add to this the shambling walk, the sudden bursts of energy, a resonant Welsh accent and, above all, the close rapport he established with his audience and Rhodri Miles became Dylan Thomas for the duration.  It was a terrific performance.

The title of the work, Clown in the Moon, comes from a poem written by the young Thomas when he was only fourteen years old.   It is this early work, together with many other poems and writings, some familiar, others less so, that form the backbone of the production. Fern Hill, snippets from Under Milk Wood and, perhaps most memorably, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night are all there and delivered in that old-fashioned Home Service style when the richness of the voice and musical sonority of the words send you (or at least send me) into a bit of a trance.  Rhodri Miles’ commanding delivery captured all the sincerity and passion of the original BBC broadcasts which did so much to bring Dylan Thomas’ work to the wider public.

Interspersed with these are the altogether more accessible reminiscences and reflections where we get to know the real Mr Thomas.  Sometimes serious and touching, especially in Part II, but more often than not lively and irreverent and featuring quite a catalogue of girls too, we, the audience, hung onto his every word and enjoyed every moment. At times he was the raconteur and we were his audience – usually in the pub; but on other occasions we were in the role of intimate confidante.   We hear about his family, his problems with drink, the best friend for whom he was to have been best man, Swansea and Larne, the summerhouse, the boathouse, America and London.  It was a compelling mixture and delivered with impeccable timing and crystal clarity.  “Let copulation thrive!” was, without doubt, Thomas’ rallying cry but beneath the bravura we were privy to a part of him that is generally far more elusive.

The enthusiastic applause and cheering that greeted Rhodri Miles at the end of the show was richly deserved and I for one shall be looking out for more work from a truly captivating performer.

Details of all forthcoming Artsreach events can be found on their website www.artsreach.co.uk


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