Under Milk Wood – Soulpepper

Review by Adam Collier

kenneth welsh

Before attending the Soulpepper production of Under Milk Wood, I was a bit concerned.  The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood, so I was worried its language would be over my head.

I took it as a good sign when I learned that the title means what it says. Under Milk Wood is a reference to geography. The play is about a town, and if you were looking at a map it would appear … well, below a larger town named Milk Wood.

But doesn’t Under Milk Wood – that coupling of words – sound so nice? That’s the rub for me. When I hear words that seem to be so perfectly chosen to be next to one another, I always feel like I should look for more meaning.

Poetry for me is like a guest, I feel an overwhelming obligation to entertain even though I don’t really want to. So even as reassuring as the title is – as much as it seems to say ‘just take these words for what they are’ – I never fully relaxed while watching. I found myself envying the older man one row ahead of mine who seemed to get all the humor and never once hunched forward in his seat. (Probably an English teacher … from a small English town too.)

After the show my dad and I were talking a lot about Kenneth Welsh’s performance. Mr. Welsh’s character is listed as ‘Man’ in the playbill, which is really an eponymous name for what seems like twenty characters. My dad couldn’t say enough good things. I agree, with one – perhaps weird sounding – caveat. There were times that Mr. Welsh was working so hard transitioning from one character to another, I got more caught-up in his work as an actor than the characters he was supposed to be playing.

The other thing my dad and I were talking about after the show was the marvelous artistic collaboration between the three other performers on stage; there’s a musician and two Foley artists. A Soulpepper staffer suggested in a talk he gave about forty-minutes before curtain, that the live music and sound effects were a nod to Thomas’ early work for BBC Radio. Personally, I can’t imagine how else a performance onstage would work if it didn’t have live performers. Very little actually happens, so the extra layer of improvised texture they add was pretty crucial to the richness of my experience.

At the end of the show, I stood clapping with the rest of the audience – so was my dad. I was clapping because at the very least this production is a technical masterpiece that sustains impressive energy and stamina. Though the acting can easily take-over as the focus of praise, the lighting clearly reflects a meticulous eye for entail, and the two layers of sound in addition to the spoken words can hardly be considered just in the background.


Under Milk Wood is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (in the Distillery District)
– Performances begin July 11th and go to August 2nd
– For details about ticket pricing ranges from $34 – $65, with rush tickets available 15 minutes before performance starts for $20.
– Showtimes at 8pm Monday to Saturday, with 2pm matinees on Wednesday and Saturdays.
– See the Soulpepper website, or call the box office at 416-866-8666 for details.


Photo of Kenneth Welsh