Review by Tulis McCall
(13 Dec 2010)
I like my Dylan Thomas straight up, not shaken or stirred, with a twist, perhaps, depending on the weather; but straight, anyway.
So I was looking forward to this production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, looking forward to the clean lines of Thomas’s writing. I was looking forward to it in particular because Christmas has been eluding me. Maybe it was the sinus infection nature bestowed on me in mid-November. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it has something to do with not being in love. Who knows?
I’ve been rooting about like a truffle hunting pooch to suss out the holiday. And I was pretty certain that Thomas would do the trick. It is the dark purity of this time that Thomas lays out in his tale of Christmas in the late 1920’s. A time where the only complication was people and the place in which they lived. No radios or electronics; just women and men bundled up in wool and trying not to set anything on fire while the Christmas meal was cooked and presented, with boys slinking about the black and white town with snowballs and candy cigarettes; and the snow.
...Snow was not only shaken from whitewash
buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground
and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and
bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the
roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather
Thomas is precise, efficient, and daring. He steps out onto the tightrope and dares you to follow. He creates Christmas like an architect building a city.
All the Christmases roll down toward the
two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon
bundling down the sky that was our street;
and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged,
fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the
snow and bring out whatever I can find.
This is writing that needs no explanation, adjustment or augmentation. Yet this is precisely what Charlotte Moore has chosen, with the best of intentions, to do. She has added not only Christmas carols and songs but swaths of text as well.
Some of this material comes from the play “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” adapted from the poem by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell, to whom no credit is given, some from Dylan himself – A Winter’s Tale and Memories of Christmas, and some seems to have come from Ms. Moore.
It is understandable that this choice was made because the poem itself will not make a night’s full meal. Here is a group of able performers, with a range of singing and acting skills, who do their best to make a coherent tale. And in many ways they succeed in giving us a picture of the time and the town wherein the tale is located.
The very clear result is that you will either like it or you won’t. Much of the audience did on the night I attended with several audible sighs after sentimental songs and plenty of laughs where they were intended.
For my taste, however, the evening was sweet and sentimental, and those qualities in the same room with Dylan Thomas do not a match make. I’m a savory kind of gal. Too much sugar turns the whole grain into mush.
But as I said – you may have a different set of eyes, as did my theatre companion, and pronounce it swell.