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A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Posted by Karl Pierce (karl) on Mar 13 2010
News >> Rave Reviews

By Graham Cleaverly
A Child’s Christmas in Wales
By Dylan Thomas, adapted and directed by Christine Probst, Christine Mitchell and Angela Milne for the NWTC's Youth Theatre
And if some day the mellifluous voices of Ireland's playwrights should grow a little too familiar - the Becketts and Synges and Behans and Friels and O'Caseys fade a little into the everyday world - then where would the rest of us go for magic?
To Wales is the answer demonstrated by the New World's Youth Theatre Group at the Carré Rotondes: the Wales remembered by Dylan Thomas when he plunged his hand “into that "wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea" and brought out his evocation of once-upon-a-time Christmas in his prose poem A Child's Christmas in Wales.
Dylan's Christmas is one in which schoolboys dress down for the snow and the snowballs and the mischief-making while schoolgirls dress up and sit elegantly around the tree and both of them chatter about presents: a Christmas in which there are always uncles and just as inevitably aunts, the former smoking unaccustomed cigars and the latter having unusual recourse to the elderberry wine and the port: a Christmas when there was, of course, always snow.
Adapting this stream of nostalgia into something theatrical was the task taken on by Christine Probst, Christine Mitchell and Angela Milne, jointly also co-directors, and an excellent job they made of it, using every inch of the stage, with lines upon lines of original prose broken up into dialogues and choruses - in particular as the group of girls around the tree discuss and tabulate presents, the lines and individual words shifting from one to another in a well-rehearsed and unhesitating sequence.
They were well matched by the boys, who had more to do, mostly because Thomas himself is primarily remembering himself and his friends and the tricks they played on each other and on grown-ups – and on the cats who were snowballed for fun and sinuously played by the girls.
Both though show how all those youth workshops that the NWTC has been running have paid off in helping to pull of that difficult trick – the preservation of childhood's talent for 'let's pretend', only too prone to fade away with adolescence, and achieving the transition of it – at least the beginning of transition – into the more disciplined talent of acting on stage, with its fundamental requirement to learn and project a part developed by someone else.
Somehow the common talent of the child has to be maintained and matured without being lost, and it seems the NWTC is being well served here by their youth organisers.
It would seem largely invidious to mention names. This was above all a well-drilled yet relaxed ensemble performance, not a matter of leads and supports. I'll mention though Charlotte Coles (last seen as the narrator in Caucasian Chalk Circle) - simply for the variety of roles she played, from child under the Christmas tree to the housewife coping with a burning fowl and an incursion of firemen to the ever more tipsy Aunt Hannah graduating from port to rum.
Paddy Fox had the distinction of playing Thomas himself and did so ably: however I'll just take him as a symbol for the general level of the youth group's performance.
It was not however only a night for the children (any more than Christmas is, whatever one says). Probably the whole enterprise would not have held together without Thomas's
NWTC Newsletter Page 10 Jan 2010
words as delivered in narration by John Evans and Phil Evans, both Welsh and rich voiced, both obviously susceptible to and masters of the complex and sensuous language with which the poet brings to life the settings and backgrounds, the stories and the characters. I was surprised to find them unrelated - but of course the inadequacy of unqualified Welsh surnames is proverbial.
While there were credits for lighting (Anthony McCarthy) and sound (Deborah Anderson), both impeccable, there was none for the stage set, maybe because it was very simple. Nonetheless it was effective and especially around the tree produced the kind of traditional picture that probably everyone has somewhere among the cards they received this year.
For this particular Christmas card, the organisers and performers deserve our thanks.

Last changed: Mar 13 2010 at 4:12 PM

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