A Child’s Christmas in Wales (2008)

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (2008)

Jul 1, 2008

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (2008)

A Child's Christmas in Wales, presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, is a fully-staged adaptation of the beloved short story by Dylan Thomas. Using a cast of four adult professionals and two children to play all of the characters, the adaptation remains entirely faithful to Thomas' original story, while incorporating highly imaginative and colorful visuals to support Thomas' rich poetic text. A Child's Christmas in Wales is the author's recollections of childhood experiences in Swansea, Wales, in the 1920s, and is filled with the warmth, music and humor of family holidays during a simpler time. This 75-minute production is suitable for all ages (five and older,) and includes many traditional holiday songs, including "The Carol of the Bells" and the Welsh carol, "Suo Gan". Previously produced in California (in 2000 and revived in 2004), the production has proven to be a holiday favorite for anyone with children, or anyone who has ever been a child.

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Director's Notes

REMEMBRANCES OF HOLIDAYS PAST In creating this original adaptation of the story with the ensemble of my former theatre company, we attempted to make use of many different storytelling techniques, trying always to find the most appropriate method for each of the various episodes. Some sections wanted to be shown (acted out), while others needed simply to be told, using Thomas' beautiful text to evoke our own memories. Our rehearsal process was one of trial and error, using standard improvisational techniques as well as our own invented methods. We have been concerned primarily with three elements: text, image, and sound (including music), and we tried to find visual equivalents to Thomas' incomparably poetic text. Above all, we worked hard to find our own style, to go beyond the standard conventions of narrative theatre. The production you see today is truly a collaboration, created over many years by three different (but overlapping) companies of artists. Actors, designers, stage managers, choreographer and director have all contributed to the work in ways which far exceed their usual "roles"; it is impossible for any one of us to claim authorship of the adaptation. In this kind of work, for example, a designer's visual contribution is as much a part of the "script" as are the lines of dialogue and the narrative - and in any case, Dylan Thomas is the sole writer of most of the spoken lines, and our "writing" has been limited to simple cutting and some rearranging, to fit dramatic and thematic ends. We hope that our production will remind you of your own holidays past, of family, of food and presents and singing, and of wonder and mystery and joy. Thank you for making us a part of your holidays. -Philip Charles Sneed.


Poetry Takes the Stage: Dylan Thomas and the Theatre Dylan Thomas once clarified his objective as a writer in a letter to a friend: "I do not want to express only what other people have felt," he wrote. "I want to rip something away and show what they have never seen." If you crack open a collection of Thomas' poems or short stories, you will immediately understand what he meant. Thomas seems to invent a new language with each line he writes, and his style, which scholar Barbara Hardy calls "working more on the fringe of language," conjures up a sense of motion, exuberance, and surprise. Although A Child's Christmas in Wales was written over fifty years ago, the words still leap to their feet and beg to be performed. It seems an obvious choice to adapt this short story for the stage, but why? What is it about Thomas as a writer that is conducive to theatrical performance? There is an inherent theatricality to Thomas' language that results from his constant quest for innovation. Biographer Paul Ferris points out that Thomas, a fan of word games, "never tired of taking words to pieces as if they were bits of machinery. In fact, Thomas' novel use of language has earned him comparisons to Joyce and Shakespeare-writers distinguished for their daring originality. Hardy calls Thomas' language, "a bouncy, buoyant, bawdy language, a sensuous and appreciative style for the sensuous and appetitive character." She could just as easily be describing Shakespeare. Beyond Thomas' writing style, however, we see traces of the theatre in his own life. His wife Caitlin was a dancer, and before she met Thomas, she would dance in eurythmy performances-a movement style that linked gesture, emotion, and rhythm-for unappreciative audiences. Caitlin was also briefly a member of the Group Theatre in London (not to be confused with Lee Strasburg's New York-based Group Theatre, founded in the same decade). The London Group Theatre was an experimental company founded in 1932 that performed plays by W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot, among others. It has been said that Eliot was in the audience at one of Caitlin's performances, and was reported staring at his shoes throughout the piece. Although Caitlin was not, apparently, a celebrated actress or dancer, it is still worth noting that Thomas, whose language is rife with theatricality, was married to a performer. Thomas himself was not a stranger to the stage. He was a member of the Swansea Little Theatre in the 1930's, and according to most accounts, was a decent actor. Today the same theatre is renamed the Dylan Thomas Theatre, and his daughter Aeronwy serves as its president. Thomas' theatrical career, however, was not simply a pastime in his youth. In 1950, on his way to America for the first of his poetry tours, Thomas stopped in London to appear in a one-night performance of a play by Picasso, Desire Caught by the Tail. Even when his writing career was taking off, Thomas still set aside time for his theatrical roots. Although Thomas never became a full-fledged playwright, his writing career may have been leaning in that direction. The BBC approached him several times (and was disappointed several times by Thomas' inability to keep a deadline) about adapting Wycherley's The Plain Dealer, Ibsen's Peer Gynt, and Euripides' Trojan Women. None of these adaptations panned out, but perhaps the BBC saw in Thomas a budding playwright with much to offer the theater. They were not off the mark; Thomas' last work, though unfinished, was a play for voices called Under Milk Wood. He delivered it to the BBC in Swansea exactly one month before his death, just before setting out on his final journey to America. Although it's difficult to speculate on where Thomas' career would have led him, had his life not ended at the age of 39, one can see traces of a movement towards the theater in his final work. Hardy calls Under Milk Wood "a story, a drama, and poetic prose. It is written to be listened to, and strongly marked in rhythm and visual imagery." Writers like Thomas, who strive to invent a new language with each piece, certainly do rip away our expectations, and offer us surprising alternatives. The theatre, in this sense, is the perfect space for Thomas' language. His words can be given the movement and exuberance they deserve. His images of Useful Presents and Useless Presents become tangible objects that delight. His ideas of time and memory can spring into being. In the theatre, the collaboration of Thomas' writing and the physical energy of the actors, merge to create something timeless, something new, and something extraordinary. This is certainly not "only what other people have felt." This is something "they have never seen." -Amanda Holden, Dramaturg


Orion Pilger

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Cambria Pilger

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Gary Alan Wright*

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