Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Hannah Ellis, granddaughter of Dylan Thomas and Guy Masterson, master storyteller provide a run through of one of the most fascinating, engaging and quite simply wonderful poets of the 20th Century. We start from his birth and work towards his death, whilst breathing between the poetic majesty that was Thomas’s words. All of the classic and well loved texts were aired whilst his granddaughter gave us a wonderful insight to a man she may never have met, but whose legend has sustained her and her family throughout their lives.
Ellis and Masterson arrive onstage with a massive screen between them. Ellis uses notes from her ipad whilst Masterson gives us tremendous performances between each biographical detail. We are introduced to the life of a man who became a poetic icon and a favourite drunk. What we get is not something which puts him on a pedestal but illuminates the complexities of his life and the vastness of a character that was still a man within a family who loved, lost and almost survived himself.
The fact that Ellis is using an ipad from which she is reading adds to the charm rather than detracts. She is clearly not a performer but a very able advocate. That she has a very capable partner in Masterson which means we can enjoy the words of the man as well as place them in context. Masterson is impeccable. What I find particularly impressive is the lack of Hi de Hi Welsh accent but a Welsh tone that weaves through the words rather than assaults you with clarion cries of authenticity. When delivering the words of Thomas, as Thomas it underlines his universality and removes and suggestion that Thomas might have just been a boyo. I did wonder if the whole experience could have been enhanced by hearing the voice of Thomas but some things may not have been possible.
The set was functional – ample supply of chairs for both performers, enough for one each – whilst the slide show was extremely well put together. Throughout the show, on Masterson’s birthday, you could had have heard a pin drop. This was theatre that was engrossing and delivered with an assured and considered tone. The words needed airing, no other trickery was necessary.
This was, for me, an indulgence. I once directed Under Milk Wood with a summer school of young teenagers. It was one of my favourite theatrical experiences as the young people, sceptical at the start, became massive fans by the end. They enjoyed the freedom of the piece and responded with as much creativity as possible, understanding the wonderful springboard which the text had provided them. Here it was more than a text but a life that springs from the performance; and what a life too. That he died without cirrhosis of the liver helps deal with the myths and I can see parallels with our own Robert Burns who was told to take the waters of the Solway to cure his ailments; many think it was that which killed him. Two giants lost early but one here celebrated with joy.