Dylan Thomas: Return Journey

Dylan Thomas: Return Journey


Reviewed by: Merlin Harries

The story of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is at once both fascinating and tragic but gave rise to Sir Anthony Hopkins' tribute released in 1990 and starring the actor Bob Kingdom in the title role.

Dylan Thomas: Return Journey represents Hopkins' directorial interpretation of Thomas' renowned one-man shows where he appeared in a range of libraries, public halls, women's clubs and colleges reading his work including the much celebrated 'play for voices' Under Milk Wood which, since its first publication in 1954, has never been out of print.

Throughout Dylan Thomas' early childhood his father DJ Thomas, an English teacher and aspiring poet, would read Shakespeare aloud to his infant son. This gives some indication of the importance that the sound of words played in his early life, leading him to pursue literature and language fervently throughout his childhood. It is this element of his work that is most profoundly felt in Kingdom's portrayal and his mellifluous tone seems more in keeping with Shakespearean English than the writer's native tongue. By his own admission, it was a recording of Thomas' voice that first drew Kingdom to the role he so exquisitely makes his own. It is through Kingdom's voice that we get some idea of Dylan Thomas the poet but also Dylan Thomas the man, whose life was so famously synonymous with both literary greatness and personal sorrow.

The format of Return Journey is aimed at mirroring Thomas' circuit talks, which took him across the British Isles and to America. It was in the 1950s that the poet left his young wife and children in their somewhat isolated home town of Laugharne on a lengthily tour of the USA. This was perhaps central to Kingdom's understanding of the poet who, suffering with alcoholism, was often seen to punctuate his bitter-sweet poems of nostalgia with melancholic pauses.

Kingdom's portrayal of Thomas is both touching and bleak, resting on the nuances of movement, sighs, glances and pauses in recitation. It is a performance of staggering transparency, balancing the meticulously cultivated tone of voice with occasional trembles of expressions of blankness that hint at the poet's inner sadness. The entire work rests solely on Kingdom's verve and he delivers a performance that reflects Thomas' love of literature and personal despair in equal measure, giving a rare and fleeting glimpse at the world of a man who seemed to be perpetually teetering on the precipice of personal destruction.

As with the poet's 'lectures', Kingdom's focus on poems such as Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, And Death Shall Have No Dominion and A Child's Christmas in Wales is coupled with personal observations of humorous stories of drinking binges with the 'ancient bad boys'.

Kingdom is without peer in his portrayal of the enigmatic poet and even in preparing to speak, the dimming lights only serve to accentuate the depth of the actor's journey into Thomas' world. Return Journey embodies the very heart of the truest theatrical impetus and praise, while lavished on Kingdom, should also be reserved for the director's role. It is in Hopkins' passionate love of his countryman's work that we find the heart and pulse of Return Journey and it was no doubt the poets longing for simpler times that enticed both actor and director to join Thomas' innumerable fans worldwide.

Bob Kingdom was once quoted as saying of Dylan Thomas "Sometimes being too aware of beauty is a responsibility people can't handle". For any lover of both the theatrical and poetic mediums Return Journey is a joy to behold and serves as the most fitting testament to and celebration of Dylan Thomas who, while haunted by demons, is so rightly celebrated for his creative genius.

Reviewed on: 14 Jul 2006
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Dylan Thomas: Return Journey packshot
One man show dedicated to the life of one of Britain’s greatest ever poets.
Amazon link

Director: Anthony Hopkins

Writer: Anthony Hopkins, including work by Dylan Thomas

Starring: Bob Kingdom

Year: 1990

Runtime: 60 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Netherlands


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