Having studied Dylan Thomas at university, fallen in love with Richard Burton's classic interpretation of Under Milk Wood and having a strong Welsh family connection, I was excited to see this one man show of Fern Hill and Other Dylan Thomas by Guy Masterson. Myself and those who saw this show were not disappointed. Masterson brought to the stage a vibrant energy and passion for Thomas' work that rubbed off on everyone from the word go and whether you were familar with his work or not, everyone learned something new about his powerful insightful writing and the man himself.
Masterson brought to the stage a vibrant energy and passion for Thomas' work
What made this experience particularly special was that not only were each of the poems done with the spirit of Richard Burton (it helped that Masterson was the great nephew of Burton), but due to Masterson's upbringing in Wales, he performed Thomas' work with a lyrical Welsh lilt that not only made the show extremely authentic, but everything was brought to life in a way that was uplifting, educational, funny and insightful. Every link that connected the original writing together was well researched and personalised with moments from his childhood and as he grew up and learned more about Thomas. This gave an engaging insight into the workings of Masterson's mind and even when he mentioned moments from the tour of the show before lockdown happened, it felt like we were watching Thomas himself speak through him. A particular highlight of his memories was meeting someone on a cruise who was around at the time that Dylan Thomas died and learning from him that there was a strong potential that the cause of of death was misdiagnosed. As he also mentioned, given what we know now medically, as opposed to then, it was likely that it was a diabetic coma that took Thomas in the end. In many ways that gave a different dynamic to the show, as it became part lecture, part performance.
But the main thing that brought the whole show to life was using nothing but an empty stage and himself, Masterson didn't recite any of the work on offer. He physicalised most of the characters and brought raw emotion to each piece. With every word and every action, it became an experience that was taken to another level of performance that was beyond words. It was like he wasn't Masterson anymore, but a little girl, a butcher, an old grandfather smoking a pipe and more. This was method acting that was on the same perfectionist level as David Suchet, yet it had a spiritual journey that carried the humanist nature of Thomas' writing with such power that we didn't want it to end.
Pieces of note included Holiday Memory, The Hunchback in the Park, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and Fern Hill.