Fairmont Resort, November 11
Dylan Thomas was already dead when Under Milk Wood, the only true masterpiece in the history of radio plays, was recorded in 1954, with a 28-year-old Richard Burton voluptuously intoning the poetry as First Voice. Endlessly revised, the work was still being rewritten up to Thomas’s death, and therefore may be thought of as his “unfinished symphony” given the play’s sprawling musicality of language and use of song.
Setting out to create a new work that draws so deeply on Under Milk Wood for inspiration as Dale Turner has done with A Door Ajar could seem an odd decision: if not in the least plagiaristic, mildly rapacious, perhaps. But this production directed by Michael Pigott for Weatherboard Theatre Company makes the motivation abundantly obvious. Thomas’s masterpiece has been treated as an end in itself; a theatrical, sonic, and literary cul de sac. To Turner, however, it was a door opening on to a vast set of possibilities of character, structure and, above, all, language.
A Door Ajar is set in the Blue Mountains in the 1920s, and is presented as a live recording of a radio play. Six actors – Shane Porteous, Claire Jones, Tiriel Mora, Maureen Green, Duncan Wass and Eliza Logan – play scores of characters between them, as well as generating live sound effects that can be a world of enchantment in themselves. Meanwhile violinist Rebecca Daniel provides incidental music and Laura Turner projects period photographs on to open suitcases hanging above the stage. The initial images of clouds projected on to these suitcases sets the tone of mild surrealism that is one of the many threads running through the weave of the work.
The thickest of these threads is the verse-based language. If this is not quite as dense as Thomas’s, perhaps one could argue the air is thinner in Katoomba than in imaginary Llareggub! Nonetheless it is certainly dense enough to require stunningly few words to bring the tapestry of characters to full-blooded, vibrant life in all their foibles and foolishness. Like the Blue Mountains the show is often shrouded in a mist of wistfulness, and yet just as often broad humour spills from it like flesh bursting from an ill-fitting suit.
As Thomas did, Turner has a way of depicting the thoughts, words and deeds of his characters so that the mundane becomes tinged with the mythical. Although he may satirize many – most! – of his characters, it is never so cruelly that you lose the sense of any underlying affection for them, and this warmth is a hallmark of the show.
Pigott has ensured that the timing, comedy and quality of the performances all excel, with Porteous as the Narrator blessed with a chapel-toned voice that can linger to chew on an especially relished word. Indeed the precise enunciation of all six actors across the plethora of characters and accents is of such a consistent standard as to ensure nothing is lost among the dense thickets of poetic evocation; among word combinations so rich you can smell them. My only quibble would be that, having immersed ourselves in this luxuriant world, the intermission seemed an unnecessary jolt out of it.
Until November 19.