Under Milk Wood
A statue in Swansea's Maritime Quarter
representing Thomas's fictional Captain Cat
is a 1954 play for radio
, later adapted for the stage
A film version, Under Milk
directed by Andrew
, was released in 1972. Thomas's poetic writing and an
unforgettable cast of characters makes this a landmark play in the
history of both radio and theatre.
all-seeing narrator invites the audience to listen to the dreams
and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of an imaginary small
Welsh village, Llareggub.
They include Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, relentlessly bossing her two
dead husbands; Captain Cat, reliving his seafaring times; the two
Mrs Dai Breads; Organ Morgan, obsessed with his music; and Polly
Garter, pining for her dead lover. Later, the town wakes and, aware
now of how their feelings affect whatever they do, we watch them go
about their daily business.
Origins and development
A boat bearing the name of the
fictional location of Under Milk Wood
When Dylan Thomas
was staying in
one winter, he went out early one morning into the
still sleeping town and verses came to his mind about the
inhabitants. He wrote the account of this as Quite Early One
(recorded for BBC Wales 14 December 1944 and broadcast
31 August 1945). He continued to work on the idea for eight
In Quite Early One Morning
there are numerous ideas and
characters which would come to fruition in Under Milk
For instance, the short story contains a 28-line poem of
which this is the fourth verse; the name and the final line
reappear in Under Milk Wood.
- Open the curtains, light the fire, what are servants for?
- I am Mrs Ogmore Pritchard and I want another snooze.
- Dust the china, feed the canary, sweep the drawing-room
- And before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.
The name Llareggub was first used by Dylan Thomas in a short story
The Burning Baby
published in 1936. ('Death took hold of
his sister's legs as she walked through the calf-high heather up
the hill... She was to him as ugly as the sowfaced woman Llareggub
who had taught him the terrors of the flesh.') The fictional
Llareggub is "bugger all" spelt backwards; this was re-spelt in
early editions of Under Milk Wood
as not to offend.
He wrote to his wife, Caitlin, (on about 23 May 1953, from the USA,
on notepaper headed The Poetry Center), towards the end of a long
letter : 'I've finished that infernally eternally unfinished 'Play'
& have done it in New York with actors.'
He read a
part of the script in public for the first time in Cambridge,
Massachusetts at The Poetry Centre.
Soon after, with
others, he sound-recorded a performance at the 92nd Street Y
On 9 September 1953, he delivered a full draft of Under Milk
to the BBC
as he left for a tour of
America, intending to revise the manuscript on his return.
Dylan Thomas is reported to have commented that Under Milk
was developed in response to the atomic bombing
, as a way of reasserting the evidence of
beauty in the world .
The play had its first reading on stage on 14 May 1953, in New
York, at the The Poetry Center.
The BBC first broadcast Under Milk Wood,
a new 'Play for
Voices', on the Third Programme
on 25 January 1954 (two
months after Dylan's death), although several sections were
omitted. The play was recorded with a distinguished, all-Welsh cast
and produced by Douglas
.The recording featured Richard Burton
as 'First Voice'. A repeat was
broadcast two days later. Daniel
, the Welsh composer who was a lifelong friend of Thomas's
(and his literary trustee), wrote the music; this was recorded
separately, on 15 and 16 January, at Laugharne School.
In 1963, the original radio producer, Douglas Cleverdon, revisited
the project and recorded the complete play, which was broadcast on
11th October 1963.
The 1972 film, with Richard Burton reprising his role, also
featured Elizabeth Taylor
, Peter O'Toole
, Vivien Merchant
other well-known actors, and Ryan Davies
as the 'Second Voice'. The film was shot on location in Fishguard,
Pembrokeshire and at Lee International Film Studios, London.
In 1988, George Martin
album version, featuring more of the dialogue being sung, with
music by Martin and Elton John
others; Anthony Hopkins
part of 'First Voice'. This was subsequently mounted as a one-off
stage performance (as An Evening with Dylan Thomas
The Prince's Trust
and in the
presence of HRH Prince Charles, to commemorate the opening in
December 1992 of the new AIR Studios
Lyndhurst Hall. It was again produced by Martin and directed by
Hopkins, who once again played 'First Voice'. Other roles were
played by Harry Secombe
, Freddie Jones
, Catherine Zeta Jones
, Siân Phillips
, Jonathan Pryce
and, flying in especially for the occasion, Tom Jones
. The performance was recorded
for television (directed by Declan
) but has never been shown.
In November 2003, as part of the their commemoration of the
fiftieth anniversary of Thomas's death, the BBC
broadcast a new production of the play, imaginatively combining new
actors with the original 1954 recording of Richard Burton
playing 'First Voice'.
(Broadcast 15 November 2003, BBC Radio
; repeated 24 December 2004.) Digital noise reduction
technology allowed Burton's part to be seamlessly incorporated into
the new recording, which was intended to represent Welsh voices
more realistically than the original.
Austrian composer Akos Banlaky composed an opera to the libretto
based on the German translation by Erich
Fried (Unter dem Milchwald, performed at Tiroler
Landestheater in Innsbruck, Austria).
In 2008, a ballet version of Under Milk Wood
by Independent Ballet Wales
UK. It was choreographed by Darius James with music by British
composer Thomas Hewitt Jones
suite including music from the ballet was recorded by Court Lane
Music in 2009.
In 2009, a Dutch translation by Hugo Claus was brought on stage by
Jan Decleir and Koen De Sutter in the Zeeland Late-Summer
The play opens at night, and each character is dreaming - this
lasts for about one fifth of the play. The characters are presented
below in the order in which the narrator introduces their dreams:
- Captain Cat - The old blind sea captain who
dreams of his deceased sea fellows, and the benefits that they miss
now no longer alive.
- Myfanwy Price - The dressmaker and sweet shop
keeper who dreams of Mog Edwards, a draper, and marriage.
- Mr. Mog Edwards - The Draper that is loved by
Myfanwy Price and who loves her back. Their romance, however, is
restricted strictly to the letters they write one another
- Jack Black - The cobbler, who dreams of
frightening the young couples.
- Evans the Death - The undertaker, who dreams of youth.
- Mr. Waldo - Rabbitcatcher, barber, herbalist, catdoctor, quack,
dreams of his mother, her regret and his many unhappy, failed
marriages due to his alcoholism and trouble making.
- Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard - The owner of a guest
house, who must have everything clean and dreams of her late
- Mr. Ogmore - Deceased, Linoleum salesman, late of Mrs.
- Mr. Pritchard - Deceased, failed bookmaker, late of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard,
- Gossamer Beynon - The Schoolteacher (daughter
of Butcher Beynon), dreams of a fox-like illicit love, which
represents her hidden passion for Sinbad Sailors.
- Organ Morgan - The church organ player, has
perturbed dreams of music and orchestras within the village. Cries
out 'Help' in his sleep.
- Mr & Mrs Floyd - The cocklers, an elderly
couple, seemingly the only couple to sleep peacefully in the
- Utah Watkins - The farmer, dreams of counting
sheep that are smiling, bleating and knitting, just like his
- Ocky Milkman - The milkman, dreams of pouring his milk into a river,
regardless of expense.
- Mr. Cherry Owen - Dreams of drinking, and yet,
is unable to as the tankard turns into a fish, which he
- Police Constable Attila Rees - The policeman,
relieves himself into his helmet at night, knowing somehow he will
regret this in the morning.
- Mr. Willy Nilly - The postman, who delivers
the post in his sleep, and physically knocks upon his wife as if
knocking upon a door.
- Mrs. Willy Nilly - Who, because of her
husband's knocking upon her, dreams of being spanked by her teacher
for being late for school, every night of her married life.
- Sinbad Sailors - The barman, dreams of
- Mae Rose Cottage - Dreams of meeting the right
man by being a rebel.
- Bessie Bighead - Hired help, dreams of the one
man that kissed her.
- Mrs. Butcher Beynon - Butcher Beynon's wife,
dreams of the imagined horrors that her husband professes to
- Butcher Beynon - The butcher, dreams of riding
pigs and shooting wild giblets.
- Rev. Eli Jenkins - The
Reverend, poet and preacher, dreams of Eisteddfodau.
- Mr. Pugh - School master, dreams of poisoning
- Mrs. Organ Morgan - Grocer, dreams of
- Mary Ann Sailors - Dreams of the Garden of Eden.
- Dai Bread - The bigamist baker, dreams of
- Polly Garter - Dreams of babies.
- Nogood Boyo - Dreams peevishly of 'nothing',
though he later fantasises about Mrs. Dai Bread Two in a wet
- Lord Cut Glass - Dreams of clocks.
- Lilly Smalls - Maid of the Beynons', dreams of
love and a fantasy life.
1954 BBC Radio: the three boys were played by Ian Griffith, John
Watts and Philip Cyster.
1972 film: the following also appear in the credits. Shane Shelton
as Dancing Williams; Paul Grist as Tom Fred; Bryn Jones as Jonah
Jarvis; John Rainer as Alfred Pomeroy Jones; Mark Jones as Evans
the Death; Ray Smith as Mr Waldo; Olwen Griffiths as Waldo's
mother; Paul Spear as Young Waldo; Lucy Griffiths as 3rd neighbour;
Nesta Harris as 4th neighbour; Andree Gaydon as Matti Richards;
Pamela Miles as Mrs Flusher; Davydd Harries as PC Attila Rees;
Griffith Davies as Ocky Milkman; Davydd Havard as Lord Cut Glass;
Janet Davis as Mrs Sarah; Margaret Courtney as 1st neighbour;
Gwyneth Owen as 2nd neighbour; Gordon Styles as 1st fisherman;
Brian Osborne as 2nd fisherman; T H Evans as Polly's grandfather;
Edmond Thomas as Inspector; Jill Britton as Mrs Rose Cottage;
Minnie Collins as Mrs Twenty-Three; Rhoda Lewis, Eira Griffith,
Margaret Lacey & Angela Brinkworth as 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th
Woman; David Davies as Utah Watkins; Maudie edwards as Mrs Utah
Watkins; Peggy Ann Clifford as Bessie Bighead.
- To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in
the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent
and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down
to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing
sea. - opening lines, spoken by First Voice
The opening can be heard here:
Under Milk Wood - A Short History
by Nicolas Soames
(accompanying Naxos AudioBook CDs) 
Dylan Thomas's sketch map of Llareggub.