Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Dylan Thomas was a prodigious talent, a wordsmith of the highest quality, a poet of brilliant inventiveness and inspiring verse. A rhythm king. And a drunk who died ludicrously young.
His use of language was immaculate, his poetry magical and profound. His performances were legendary, often teetering on the brink of dissolution as he drank his way into the hearts and minds of a generation where men were men, and women were indoors.
This portrayal by Bob Kingdom does full justice to the essential qualities of Dylan Thomas. The readings from the cannons of the Welsh bard are truly memorable, the language is a lesson to the young pretenders who populate the fringe and who often seem to abuse rather than respect the language they use.
This one-man show is in many ways a remarkable and honestly blunt tribute to Thomas’ s work, to his inventiveness, to his imagination, to his delivery of some of the finest poetry written in the last century. Those in the audience loved it. Few would have been under fifty years of age, and I was left wondering if Dylan Thomas would still figure in the collective cultural memory in the next fifty years.
This is also a tough piece in that it doesn’t shirk from the poet’s prodigious drinking. The Dylan Thomas portrayed is also a dark, gloomy, lugubrious figure. A male drunk who is frequently downright unpleasant. Only once too consumed by alcohol to have to miss a show, Thomas teetered on the edge of alcoholism for too long, and it eventually destroyed him.
Like Jim Morrison and other rock stars who followed in his self-destructive footsteps, Thomas is often portrayed as a leading example of the "only the good die young" artistic community. He never reached the age of 40. But there was nothing heroic about his death, but rather a terrible and self-imposed tragedy, and waste of a quite outstanding talent.
Bob Kingdom’s piece offers all of this, but in so doing turns itself into a rather dark and gloomy piece. The staging is strange with the lighting (or lack of it) leaving only a shadowy figure reciting truly memorable verse on occasions. And it feels dark and sad. Rather than a towering literary figure, Thomas emerges as a brilliant but self-indulged wordsmith, who destroyed himself, and whose reputation for his drinking threatens to outlive his work.
So I found this a depressing piece of theatre. Painfully honest, it’s a tragic figure who emerges from the bottom of the bottle. A terrible waste of a wonderful talent, to be regretted not lauded.