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Under Milk Wood: Live On Stage at the Tobacco Factory Brewery, Bristol (published on www.Guide2Bristol.com)

Adapted from Dylan Thomas’ 1954 radio drama, Splice Productions’ version of Under Milk Wood manages to keep all the wit and eloquence of Thomas’ original, whilst spicing it up with added humour and excitement.

The whole play is almost lyrically written, with Thomas’ words eloquently voiced by Bob Gwilym, known by many for his four years in BBC’s Casualty. It opens very gently, Gwilym’s sing-song accent rolling over the audience as he sets the scene of a village at night. He is then accompanied by Kerry Joy Stewart who joins him in a vivid interloping of the towns folks dreaming.

These two actors worked fabulously well together, their excellent chemistry clearly visible. Intended to be a play about a radio broadcast, the two acted their roles marvellously, both proving themselves as silver-tongued orators. Thomas uses some very tricky turn of phrases, which were handled effortlessly it seemed through various variations in pitch, tempo and character. The two front voices played myriad villagers, too many to count in one evening, but still managed to make each accent distinct so that the audience could tell which of the various characters was being soliloquised.

Gwilym and Stewart were unobtrusively supported by Natasha Pring as their sound engineer. Emerging onto stage before even the lights were on, clearly distraught, throwing down her things and taking a massive slug of gin. Though confusing to start with, soon you realise that director Kath Rogers and her team have adapted their production of Under Milk Wood to incorporate the behind the scenes drama of a 1960’s radio broadcast. You witness dissent within the ranks, as a slowly deteriorating Pring plays havoc with the sounds and script – to the obvious annoyance of the main protagonists. The first half ends in tears but the show does go on. Despite a power cut and other calamities there is eventually a final reconciliation.

Although they played each of their parts well I felt there was one flaw. Unfortunately the beautiful oration of Stewart and Gwilym was sometimes disrupted by the gradually worsening and mischievous antics of Pring’s character. Thomas has written a text that is as complex as it is rewarding, but to have a disruptive factor in the background sometimes took away from what was being said – as you’re eye is drawn to the considerable ways a drunken, sound engineer can cause havoc on a live production. And so vice versa, sometimes the sly, but gradually all the more blatant sips of gin weren’t noticed because of the siren like quality of the main voices.

With so much going on it was easy to imagine it being a real live radio broadcast, with all the troubles it entails. Crucially the superbly dramatised fall of Pring was left ambiguous, with only Polly Garter’s song for her dead lover giving the audience any suggestion to the emotional plight facing her character.

Although it was a thoroughly enjoyable affair, I felt the sing-song near the end was not in keeping with the production’s overall tone. All three of the actors performed admirably, so much that it was sometimes difficult to decide who to concentrate on at any given time. It was a bold move of Splice Productions and Kath Rogers to make any adjustments to a Dylan Thomas piece, and they have certainly gone to town on it.

All in all, Under Milk Wood: Live on Stage is a tremendous effort and an admirable cast.

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A “Transition” for Iain Banks

Banks unites himself with himself in this science fiction satire, moving seamlessly from a world like ours through many varied and unusual equivalents. Not quite Sci-Fi, not quite fiction, ‘Transition’ is a book that was incredibly hard to put down. Banks explores the many-worlds theory of reality by using a variety of characters, set in a multiverse where some have the power to move between realities. These ‘transitioners’ work for an organisation called the ‘Concern’ which is meant to be looking after the realities by interfering with specific people’s fates to bring about a very consequentialist outcome, but for whom? One transitionary, Temudjin Oh, finds himself caught in a web between the apparent head of the Concern, Madame d’Ortolan, and her break-away protege, Mrs Mulverhall, who believes that Madame d’Ortolan is using the transitioners for her own ends, complete control of the Concern, for ever.

Banks will hardly disappoint his old fans, ‘Transition’ not only has a plot that will have you dying to read more, it explores many issues. Is the possibility that there are many realities, close enough to touch and effect each other, yet unreachable, so unusual? Many authors work takes up this issue with different results, but Banks brings in the Concern, which judges the rightness of the future through a consequentialist model, so that if one had the ability to move between realities and interfere, then one should do so to create the best outcome. This exploration is epitomised by Adrian, a London trader. Adrian is the closest character to Banks’ previous fiction, reminiscing strongly of Cameron from ‘Complicity’, a high-flying, drug-taking hedonist, typical of of our own epoch. Whilst usually supplying the comic relief, Banks uses Adrian to pick a bit of fun at our own society, whilst exploring ideas around a character that we all can empathise with.

Like most of Banks’ work, ‘Transition’ is not for the faint hearted. As usual Banks writes graphically about whatever takes his fancy, from torture, to inter-reality sex. The Philosopher, a torturer for a state in a reality unknown ( maybe ours ), is an enigmatic character, We hear how he tortures his first girlfriends Dad for the abuse he gave her, yet his character is very professional in his business, and seems to represent our own tendencies to hold down a job, no matter how morally reprehensible, if we are told we excel at it. Whilst all the time continuing to torture, the Philosopher continues to question his role and place in some of Banks’ most thoughtful narratives.

‘Transition’ flows effortlessly between myriad characters and realities, drawing the reader into a multiverse where realities collide and cross-reference. It is not always forthcoming with answers – we never find out how Oh flitted without septus – but Banks creates a world where travel between realities is accepted and taught, which is as intricate and deep as the world of ours that he satires and pokes fun at. Well worth the effort.

 

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