Fern Hill and Other Dylan Thomas
Devised and performed by Guy Masterson
Durham Literature Festival, Gala Theatre, Durham
When you see a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, you wonder whether you're reacting differently to the way you would if you saw it somewhere else. If you see three poor shows in a day and number four is good, the natural reaction is to think it's better than it is. That's why shows which get five stars in Edinburgh often do less well - in the eyes of the critics - when they end up in London.
It was with this thought in mind that I approached Fern Hill and Other Dylan Thomas which I had reviewed enthusiatically at the 2001 Fringe.
The venue this time was the Gala's so-called Studio, which is not a theatre space at all but a bar area which doubles as a function room. Comfortable chairs, certainly (most unFringe-like!), but no lighting except for four Macs (intelligent lights), two on the floor to light the background and two on the bar to lift the performer above the level of the overhead lights, which stayed on throughout the show. But this is appropriate for this show, which benefits from the intimacy of the space.
As a fan of Thomas, I remembered clearly Guy Masteron's rendering of the ten poems and three short stories which make up this mini-anthology of Thomas' work, but I had forgotten the extraordinary physicality of his performance. He becomes the characters, even if they appear just for a moment. His body and facial expression are constantly changing as he moves from character to character: children, strutting young men, giggling girls, decrepit old men, eccentrics, fat uncles and drunken aunts, all appear before for us for their moment in the spotlight, and then Masterson himself is with us again for a moment or two, before he embarks on another odyssey of characterisation.
His still, straight renditions of And Death Shall have No Dominion and Do Not Go Gentle are made the more effective by the contrast and left the audience stunned.
It is a tour de force which made the eighty minutes or so pass so quickly that the audience lost all sensse of time. He has performed the piece hundreds of times and has clearly been developing and refining it as he has done so. In 2001 I gave it four stars: now it deserves five!
The wbsite for the Durham Literature Festival is at www.literaturefestival.co.uk/index.html
Reviewer: Peter Lathan