With so many Dylan Thomas readings and performances being held in celebration of a century since the Welsh poet’s birth, it was good to see Cardiff’s National Museum offering something a little different.
Llareggub is an art exhibition currently on show at the museum and consists of 170 illustrations of Dylan Thomas’ most remembered work, Under Milk Wood.
Peter Blake, a Sunderland-born artist, has dedicated hundreds of hours listening to Under Milk Wood and crafting illustrations for every character and setting described in the play.
In the 170-piece collection, including intricate collages and beautifully detailed pencil drawings, Blake’s dedication to the project is more than evident.
Walking through the doors of the gallery you instantly feel immersed in the fictional fishing village of Under Milk Wood and Blake has more than succeeded in bringing the play to life.
Blake’s illustrations and collages are small and discreet, all of equal size and measure and you’re not bowled over by any one piece. Of course in some exhibitions you need the art to speak to the viewer, but in Llareggub Blake allows the words of Under Milk Wood to take over.
He has cleverly crafted an impressive collection of illustrations without distracting from the genius of Thomas’ play.
Each collage or sketch is referenced to the part of the play it illustrates. Being a true Under Milk Wood enthusiast this meant the words I have listened to so many times became instantly personified.
The eccentric characters of Betty Bighead and Nogood Boyo were given life, a shape, clothes to wear and eyes to glare back at an audience which has for so long scrutinised the lives of these Under Milk Wood residents.
But Blake’s dedication to Under Milk Wood doesn’t stop at the main characters.
Many of the pieces are illustrations of sub-characters, only ever referred to in the play as first neighbour, second neighbour and then child.
For me, the opening of Under Milk Wood is one of the best lines in the whole play and Blake doesn’t miss this either.
“To begin at the beginning, it is a spring moonless night in the small town, starless and bible black.”
“Bible black” has always given me the creeps but at the same time is so vital to understanding the setting of this small fishing village. Blake’s illustration of a jet-black square is effective in demonstrating the remote nature of Under Milk Wood.
If you’re short of time, then it does help to have some understanding of the play beforehand, but if time isn’t an issue then the museum has provided plenty of opportunities to familiarise yourself with Under Milk Wood.
To get a true feeling of the richness of these characters use the headsets and tablets provided in the gallery.Hearing Under Milk Wood read out in the robust Welsh accent of Dylan Thomas doesn’t compare to any amount of reading.
If you visit the gallery between 2pm and 4pm then you’ll hear the words directly over the speaker in the gallery. I didn’t get this opportunity myself but I imagine it makes for a much more authentic experience.
The exhibition is free and runs until 16 March 2014. Well worth any day out.