Dylan Thomas: Clown in the Moon

Dylan Thomas' life often seems made for drama, partly because the man himself was such an actor, both in onstage performances of his poetry and in his daily life, and partly because a life of extra-marital infidelity and boozing does tend to furnish writers with plenty of material to go on. Part of the centenary celebrations of Dylan Thomas' birth (understandably somewhat overshadowed by those for WWI), Dylan Thomas: Clown in the Moon stitches together the poetry, stories, letters and diary entries of the Swansea-born poet to create a compelling romp through Thomas' life, work and loves.

The persona of the poet as 'a Welsh exhibitionist' is perfectly captured by Miles' performance.

Welsh actor Rhodri Miles is certainly not the spit of Thomas in the way that Bob Kingdom is, whose impeccable show Dylan Thomas: Return Journey is on at the Pleasance Courtyard, but apart from one or two slips here and there, he treads the line of Thomas' accent - a curious mix of Welsh brogue and plummed-up BBC Third Programme fruitiness - with astonishing vocal dexterity and range. His replication of Thomas' high-flown hwyl style of reading is impressive to say the least. Thomas himself was known to play up his Welshness when it suited him, particularly in his tours to America towards the end of his life; the persona of the poet as 'a Welsh exhibitionist' is perfectly captured by Miles' performance.

At times, however, I felt that some of Gareth Armstrong's direction owed a little too much to writer Gwynne Edwards' title, with Miles breaking into circus jigs as though he were clown first and a poet second, rather than the former being a by-product of the latter. The title is taken from an early poem of the same name, but, for the most part, Edwards' script sticks to the big hits: Poem in October, And death shall have no dominion, The force that through the green fuse, Fern Hill and, of course, Do not go gentle into that good night. Other than the latter, these are all delivered from a table centre-stage on which sits a halfway convincing 50s BBC microphone, complete with red broadcasting light. While this is an impressive conceit for the play's opening and intermittent readings, such a rigid set does restrict the play's scope inasmuch as the audience is forced to rely on Miles' storytelling and discount the set (or else re-imagine it as a public house, dining table or office) for much of the performance. Yet, in spite of its flaws as a piece of theatre, Miles' incarnation of Thomas is near flawless, and succeeds in keeping its audience mesmerised right up until the final “dying of the light.” 

Reviews by Rik Baker

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The Blurb

Celebrating 100 years since his birth, Clown in the Moon (the title of a poem written when Dylan was 14) is a portrait of the poet's chaotic, frequently hilarious and all too brief life. Located in a BBC studio, it sets Dylan's famous broadcasts alongside vivid reminiscences of his clownish antics in pubs, bars and parties and his encounters with a host of eccentric and volatile women. Welsh actor Rhodri Miles is ‘outstanding... undoubtedly one of the defining portrayals of the Swansea-born poet on stage’ (WalesArtsReview.org). By Gwynne Edwards, directed by Gareth Armstrong.