Under Milk Wood

Under Milk Wood
A statue in Swansea's Maritime Quarter representing Thomas's fictional Captain Cat

Under Milk Wood is a 1954 radio drama by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, adapted later as a stage play. A movie version, Under Milk Wood directed by Andrew Sinclair, was released during 1972.

An omniscient narrator invites the audience to listen to the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of an imaginary small Welsh village, Llareggub (which is bugger all spelt backwards).

They include Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, relentlessly nagging her two dead husbands; Captain Cat, reliving his seafaring times; the two Mrs Dai Breads; Organ Morgan, obsessed with his music; and Polly Garter, pining for her dead lover. Later, the town awakens and, aware now of how their feelings affect whatever they do, we watch them go about their daily business.


Origins and development

When Dylan Thomas was staying in Wales in New Quay one winter, he went out early one morning into the still sleeping town and verses came to his mind about the inhabitants. He wrote the account of this as a short story named Quite Early One Morning (recorded for BBC Wales 14 December 1944 and broadcast 31 August 1945). He continued to work on the idea for eight years.

In Quite Early One Morning there are numerous ideas and characters which would be developed more for Under Milk Wood. For instance, the short story includes a 28-line poem of which this is the fourth verse (the name and the final line reappear in Under Milk Wood).

Open the curtains, light the fire, what are servants for?
I am Mrs Ogmore Pritchard and I want another snooze.
Dust the china, feed the canary, sweep the drawing-room floor;
And before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.

Thomas wrote to his wife, Caitlin, (about 23 May 1953, from the USA, on notepaper headed The Poetry Centre), towards the end of a long letter [1]: 'I've finished that infernally eternally unfinished 'Play' & have done it in New York with actors.'

The same year, he read a part of the script in public for the first time in Cambridge, Massachusetts at The Poetry Centre. Soon after, with others, he sound-recorded a performance at the 92nd Street YMCA in Manhattan.

On 9 September 1953, he delivered a full draft of Under Milk Wood to the BBC as he left for a tour of America, intending to revise the manuscript on his return.

Dylan Thomas is reported to have commented that Under Milk Wood was developed in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, as a way of reasserting the evidence of beauty in the world[citation needed].


A boat bearing the name of the fictional location of Under Milk Wood

The fictional name Llareggub resembles other Welsh place names, which often begin with Llan- (meaning church), but is actually derived from reversing the phrase "bugger all". For early published editions of the play it was often rendered (contrary to Thomas's wishes) as Llaregyb or similar. The double-G is not a feature of real Welsh. If it were to be pronounced in Welsh it would be [ɬaˈreɡːɪb]

The geographical inspiration for the town has generated intense debate. Laugharne was the village where Dylan Thomas lived intermittently from the 1930s. This town was probably the inspiration for the people of Llareggub, although the topography of the town is thought to be based on New Quay, Ceredigion where Dylan was staying when he started writing the play seriously during 1944. Both towns use the Under Milk Wood association to attract tourists, hence the rivalry, and The Dylan Thomas Trail has been opened in New Quay.[2]

More recent research has indicated that most of the first half of the play was written in South Leigh, Oxford, whilst the second half was mostly written in America during May 1953. Fewer than 300 lines were written in Laugharne.[3]

Dylan drew a sketch map of the fictional town. This is now at the National Library of Wales and can be viewed online.[4]

The name Llareggub was first used by Dylan Thomas in a short story The Burning Baby[5] published during 1936. ('Death took hold of his sister's legs as she walked through the calf-high heather up the hill... She was to him as ugly as the sowfaced woman Llareggub who had taught him the terrors of the flesh.')

In the play, the Rev Eli Jenkins writes a poem, which describes Llareggub Hill and its "mystic tumulus". This was based on a lyrical description of Twmbarlwm's "mystic tumulus" in Monmouthshire that Thomas imitated from Arthur Machen's autobiography Far Off Things (1922) [6]

The town's name is the inspiration for the country of Llamedos (sod 'em all) in Terry Pratchett's Discworld setting. In the setting, Llamedos is a parody of Wales.


The play had its first reading on stage on 14 May 1953, in New York, at The Poetry Center.[7] Thomas himself read the parts of the First Voice and the Reverend Eli Jenkins. Almost as an afterthought, the performance was recorded on a single-microphone tape recording (the microphone was laid at front center on the stage floor) and later issued by the Caedmon company. It is the only known recorded performance of Under Milk Wood with Thomas as a part of the cast. A studio recording, planned for 1954, was precluded by Thomas's death during November 1953.[8]

The BBC first broadcast Under Milk Wood, a new 'Play for Voices', on the Third Programme on 25 January 1954 (two months after Dylan's death), although several sections were omitted. The play was recorded with a distinguished, all-Welsh cast and produced by Douglas Cleverdon. The recording featured Richard Burton as 'First Voice'. A repeat was broadcast two days later. Daniel Jones, the Welsh composer who was a lifelong friend of Thomas's (and his literary trustee), wrote the music; this was recorded separately, on 15 and 16 January, at Laugharne School.

In 1963, the original radio producer, Douglas Cleverdon, revisited the project and recorded the complete play, which was broadcast on 11 October 1963.

The 1972 film adaptation, with Richard Burton reprising his role, also featured Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O'Toole, Glynis Johns, Vivien Merchant, and other well-known actors, and Ryan Davies as the 'Second Voice'. The movie was filmed on location in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire and at Lee International Film Studios, London.

In 1988, George Martin produced an album version, featuring more of the dialogue being sung, with music by Martin and Elton John, among others; Anthony Hopkins played the part of 'First Voice'. This was subsequently done as a one-off stage performance (as An Evening with Dylan Thomas), for The Prince's Trust and in the presence of HRH Prince Charles, to commemorate the opening during December 1992 of the new AIR Studios at Lyndhurst Hall. It was again produced by Martin and directed by Hopkins, who once again played 'First Voice'. Other roles were played by Harry Secombe, Freddie Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones, Siân Phillips, Jonathan Pryce, Alan Bennett and, specially for the occasion, singer Tom Jones. The performance was recorded for television (directed by Declan Lowney) but has never been shown.

In November 2003, as part of their commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Thomas's death, the BBC broadcast a new production of the play, imaginatively combining new actors with the original 1954 recording of Richard Burton playing 'First Voice'. (Broadcast 15 November 2003, BBC Radio 4; repeated 24 December 2004.) Digital noise reduction technology allowed Burton's part to be incorporated unobtrusively into the new recording, which was intended to represent Welsh voices more realistically than the original.

In 2006, Austrian composer Akos Banlaky composed an opera with the libretto based on the German translation by Erich Fried (Unter dem Milchwald, performed at Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck, Austria).

In October 2008, Brightspark Productions released a 50 minute DVD animation version, using an earlier BBC soundtrack with Richard Burton as narrator. This was commissioned by S4C (a Welsh language public service broadcaster). Music was composed specially by Trevor Herbert, and performed by Treordy Male Voice Choir and the Welsh Brass Consort. Producer Robert Lyons. Director, Les Orton. It was made by Siriol Productions in association with Onward Productions and BBC Pebble Mill. DVD ref: 5 037899 005798.

In 2008, a ballet version of Under Milk Wood by Independent Ballet Wales toured the UK. It was choreographed by Darius James with music by British composer Thomas Hewitt Jones. A suite including music from the ballet was recorded by Court Lane Music during 2009.

In 2009 and 2010, a translation in Dutch by the Belgian writer Hugo Claus was performed on stage by Jan Decleir and Koen De Sutter during a theatre tour in Belgium and the Netherlands (e.g. the Zeeland Late-Summer Festival, the Vooruit in Ghent, etc.).

In 2010 a one-woman production of the text was performed at the Sidetrack Theatre in Sydney, Australia, presented by Bambina Borracha Productions and directed by Vanessa Hughes. Actress Zoe Norton Lodge performed all 64 characters in the play[9]

In July 2011, Progress Youth Theatre (Reading, Berkshire, UK) performed a stage adaptation of the radio script. All visual aspects, such as stage directions, costume, set and lighting design were therefore devised entirely by the youth theatre. The voice parts were shared equally between seven actors, with other actors playing multiple 'named' parts (with the exception of Captain Cat, who remained on stage throughout the production).

The BBC Formula 1 introduction to the 2011 Singapore Grand Prix features extracts of the audio for their opening VT.

As the requirements for costumes, sets, and the like are minimal, it is a favorite of college and community groups.


The play opens at night, when the citizens of Llareggub are asleep. The narrator (First Voice/Second Voice) informs the audience that they are witnessing the townspeople's dreams.

Captain Cat, the blind sea captain, is tormented in his dreams by his drowned seafellows, who long to live again and enjoy the pleasures of the world. Mog Edwards and Myfanwy Price dream of each other; Mr. Waldo dreams of his childhood and his failed marriages; Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard dreams of her deceased husbands. Almost all of the characters in the play are introduced as the audience witnesses a moment of their dreams.

Morning begins. The voice of a guide introduces the town, discussing the facts of Llareggub. The Reverend Eli Jenkins delivers a morning sermon on his love for the village. Lily Smalls wakes and bemoans her pitiful existence. Mr. and Mrs. Pugh observe their neighbors; the characters introduce themselves as they act during their morning. Mrs. Cherry Owen merrily rehashes her husband's drunken antics. Butcher Beynon teases his wife during breakfast. Captain Cat watches as Willy Nilly the postman goes about his morning rounds, delivering to Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, Mrs. Pugh, Mog Edwards and Mr. Waldo ("It's another paternity summons").

At Mrs. Organ-Morgan's general shop, women gossip about the townspeople. Willy Nilly and his wife steam open a love letter from Mog Edwards to Myfanwy Price; he expresses fear that he may be in the poor house if his business does not improve. Mrs. Dai Bread Two swindles Mrs. Dai Bread One with a phony fortune in her crystal ball. Polly Garter scrubs floors and sings about her past paramours. Children play in the schoolyard; Gwennie urges the boys to "kiss her where she says or give her a penny." Gossamer Beynon and Sinbad Sailors privately desire each other.

During dinner, Mr. Pugh imagines poisoning Mrs. Pugh. Mrs. Organ-Morgan shares the day's gossip with her husband, but his only interest is the organ. The audience sees a glimpse of Lord Cut-Glass's insanity in his "kitchen full of time". Captain Cat dreams of his lost lover, Rosie Probert, but weeps as he remembers that she will not be with him again. Nogood Boyo fishes in the bay, dreaming of Mrs. Dai Bread Two and geishas.

On Llareggub Hill, Mae Rose Cottage spends a lazy afternoon wishing for love. Reverend Jenkins works on the White Book of Llareggub, which is a history of the entire town and its citizens. On the farm, Utah Watkins struggles with his cattle, aided by Bessie Bighead. As Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard becomes asleep, her husbands return to her. Mae Rose Cottage swears that she will sin until she explode.

As night begins, Reverend Jenkins recites another poem. Cherry Owen heads to the Sailors Arms, where Sinbad still longs for Gossamer Beynon. The town prepares for the evening, to sleep or otherwise. Mr. Waldo sings drunkenly at the Sailors Arms. Captain Cat sees his drowned shipmates-- and Rosie-- as he begins to sleep. Organ-Morgan mistakes Cherry Owen for Johann Sebastian Bach on his way to the chapel. Mog and Myfanwy write to each other before sleeping. Mr. Waldo meets Polly Garter in a forest. Night begins and the citizens of Llareggub return to their dreams again.


  • Captain Cat - The old blind sea captain who dreams of his deceased shipmates and lost lover Rosie Probert. He is one of the play's most important characters, as he often acts as a narrator. He observes and comments on the goings-on in the village from his window.
  • Rosie Probert - Captain Cat's deceased lover, who appears in his dreams.
  • Myfanwy Price - The sweetshop-keeper who dreams of marrying Mog Edwards.
  • Mr. Mog Edwards - The draper, enamored of Myfanwy Price. Their romance, however, is restricted strictly to the letters they write one another and their interactions in their dreams.
  • Jack Black - The cobbler, who dreams of scaring away young couples.
  • Evans the Death - The undertaker, who dreams of his childhood.
  • Mr. Waldo - rabbit catcher, barber, herbalist, cat doctor, quack, dreams of his mother and his many unhappy, failed marriages. He is a notorious alcoholic and general troublemaker, and is involved in an affair with Polly Garter.
  • Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard - The owner of a guesthouse, who dreams of nagging her two late husbands. She refuses to let anyone stay at the guesthouse because of her extreme penchant for neatness.
  • Mr. Ogmore - Deceased, Linoleum salesman, late of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard.
  • Mr. Pritchard - Deceased, failed bookmaker, late of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard. He committed suicide "ironically" by ingesting disinfectant.
  • Gossamer Beynon - The schoolteacher (daughter of Butcher Beynon), dreams of a fox-like illicit love. During the day, she longs to be with Sinbad Sailors, but the two never interact.
  • Organ Morgan - The church organ player, has perturbed dreams of music and orchestras within the village. His obsession with music bothers his wife intensely.
  • Mrs. Organ Morgan - A shop owner who dreams of "silence," as she is disturbed during the day by Organ Morgan's constant organ-playing.
  • Mr & Mrs Floyd - The cocklers, an elderly couple, seemingly the only couple to sleep peacefully in the village. They are mentioned only during the dream sequence.
  • Utah Watkins - The farmer, dreams of counting sheep that resemble his wife.
  • Ocky Milkman - The milkman, dreams of pouring his milk into a river, 'regardless of expense'.
  • Mr. Cherry Owen - Dreams of drinking, and yet is unable to as the tankard turns into a fish, which he drinks.
  • Mrs. Cherry Owen - Cherry Owen's devoted wife, who cares for him and delights in rehashing his drunken antics.
  • Police Constable Attila Rees - The policeman, relieves himself into his helmet at night, knowing somehow he will regret this in the morning.
  • Mr. Willy Nilly - The postman, dreams of delivering the post in his sleep, and physically knocks upon his wife as if knocking upon a door. In the morning they open the post together and read the town's news so he can relay it around the village.
  • Mrs. Willy Nilly - who, because of her husband's knocking upon her, dreams of being spanked by her teacher for being late for school. She assists Willy Nilly in steaming open the mail.
  • Mary Ann Sailors - 83 years old, dreams of the Garden of Eden. During the day she announces her age ("I'm 83 years, 3 months and a day!") to the town.
  • Sinbad Sailors - The barman, dreams of Gossamer Beynon, who he cannot marry because of his grandmother's disapproval.
  • Mae Rose Cottage - Seventeen and never been kissed, she dreams of meeting her "Mr. Right". She spends the day in the fields daydreaming, and unseen, draws lipstick circles around her nipples.
  • Bessie Bighead - Hired help, dreams of the one man that kissed her "because he was dared".
  • Butcher Beynon - The butcher, dreams of riding pigs and shooting wild giblets. During the day he enjoys teasing his wife about the questionable meat that he sells.
  • Mrs. Butcher Beynon - Butcher Beynon's wife, dreams of her husband being persecuted for selling "owl's meat, dogs' eyes, manchop."
  • Rev. Eli Jenkins - The reverend, poet and preacher, dreams of Eisteddfodau. Author of the White Book of Llareggub.
  • Mr. Pugh - Schoolmaster, dreams of poisoning his domineering wife. He purchases a book named "Lives of the Great Poisoners" for ideas on how to kill Mrs. Pugh; however, he does not do it.
  • Mrs. Pugh - The nasty and undesirable wife of Mr. Pugh.
  • Dai Bread - The bigamist baker who dreams of harems.
  • Mrs. Dai Bread One - Dai Bread's first wife, traditional and plain.
  • Mrs. Dai Bread Two - Dai Bread's second wife, a mysterious and sultry gypsy.
  • Polly Garter - An innocent young mother, who dreams of her many babies. During the day, she scrubs floors and sings of her lost love.
  • Nogood Boyo - A lazy young fisherman who dreams peevishly of 'nothing', though he later fantasizes about Mrs. Dai Bread Two in a wet corset. He is known for causing shenanigans in the wash house.
  • Lord Cut Glass - A man of questionable sanity, who dreams of the 66 clocks that he keeps in his house.
  • Lily Smalls - Dreams of love and a fantasy life. She is the Beynons' maid, but longs for a more exciting life.
  • Gwennie - A child in Llareggub, who insists that her male schoolmates "kiss her where she says or give her a penny".


Character May 14, 1953 New York [10] 1954 BBC Radio 1963 BBC Radio 1972 Film 2003 BBC Radio 2011 Theatre Ink
First Voice Dylan Thomas Richard Burton Richard Burton Richard Burton Richard Burton
Second Voice Dion Allen Richard Bebb Ryan Davies Siân Phillips
Captain Cat Roy Poole Hugh Griffith Hugh Griffith Peter O'Toole Glyn Houston Philip Halin
Rosie Probert Nancy Wickwire Rachel Thomas Gwenyth Petty Elizabeth Taylor Mali Harries Rosie McInnes
Polly Garter Nancy Wickwire Diana Maddox Margo Jenkins Ann Beach Eiry Thomas Bethany Lehman
Mr. Mog Edwards Allen F. Collins Dafydd Harvard Aubrey Richards Victor Spinetti Matthew Rhys Sam Raby
Myfanwy Price Sada Thompson Sybil Williams Margo Jenkins Glynis Johns Lisa Palfrey Mercer Gary
Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard Sada Thompson Dylis Davies Dorothea Phillips Siân Phillips Christine Pritchard Emma Weisberg
Mr. Ogmore Allen F. Collins David Close-Thomas David Garfield Dillwyn Owen Sion Probert Jonny Cohen
Mr. Pritchard Dion Allen Ben Williams John Gill Richard Davies Islwyn Morris Will Champion
Butcher Beynon Allen F. Collins Meredith Edwards Richard Curnock Hubert Rees Sion Probert Ezra Dulit-Greenberg
Gossamer Beynon Nancy Wickwire Gwenllian Owen Margo Jenkins Angharad Rees Joyani Ghosh
The Rev. Eli Jenkins Dylan Thomas Philip Burton T H Evans Aubrey Richards Wayne Forester Jack Reibstein
Lily Smalls Sada Thompson Gwenyth Petty Gwenyth Petty Meg Wyn Owen Catrin Rhys Tess Vasiliadis
Mr. Pugh Roy Poole John Huw Jones Raymond Llewellyn Talfryn Thomas Steffan Rhodri Simon Wolfe
Mrs. Pugh Nancy Wickwire Mary Jones Rachel Thomas Vivien Merchant Sara McGaughey Aviva Galpert
Mary Ann Sailors Sada Thompson Rachel Thomas Betty Lloyd-Davies Rachel Thomas Christine Pritchard Indigo Asim
Sinbad Sailors Allen F. Collins Aubrey Richards Talfryn Thomas Michael Forrest Steven Meo Jonny Cohen
Dai Bread Allen F. Collins David Close-Thomas John Gill Dudley Jones Jack Reibstein
Mrs. Dai Bread One Sada Thompson Gwenyth Petty Guinevere Roberts Dorothea Phillips Mali Harries Emma Weisberg
Mrs. Dai Bread Two Nancy Wickwire Rachel Roberts Patricia Mort Ruth Madoc Sara McGaughey Mercer Gary
Willy Nilly Postman Dion Allen Ben Williams Mervyn Johns Tim Wylton Iestyn Jones Ezra Dulit-Greenberg
Mrs Willy Nilly Nancy Wickwire Rachel Thomas Rachel Thomas Bronwen Williams Eiry Thomas Indigo Asim
Cherry Owen Dion Allen John Ormond Thomas John Gill Glynn Edwards Andy Hockley Dan Minahan
Mrs. Cherry Owen Nancy Wickwire Lorna Davies Buddug Mair Powell Bridget Turner Ruth Jones Rosie McInnes
Nogood Boyo Allen F. Collins Dillwyn Owen David Jason Dan Minahan
Organ Morgan Roy Poole John Glyn-Jones Richard Parry Simon Wolfe
Mrs Organ Morgan Sada Thompson Olwen Brookes Dilys Price Aviva Galpert
Mae Rose Cottage Sada Thompson Rachel Roberts Susan Penhaligon Catrin Rhys Kate Lewis
Gwennie Sada Thompson Norma Jones Olwen Rees Tess Vasiliadis
Jack Black Roy Poole John Rees Steffan Rhodri Philip Halin
Evans the Death Allen F. Collins Mark Jones Jonny Cohen
Mr. Waldo Roy Poole Ray Smith Jacob Rosenberg
Utah Watkins Allen F. Collins David Davies Sam Raby
Mrs. Utah Watkins Nancy Wickwire Maudie Edwards Marianne Engelke
Ocky Milkman Roy Poole Griffith Davies Dan Minahan
P.C. Attila Rees Allen F. Collins Davyd Harries
Bessie Bighead Nancy Wickwire Peggy Ann Clifford Bethany Lehman
Mrs. Butcher Beynon Nancy Wickwire Mary Jones Bethany Lehman
Lord Cut-Glass Dion Allen Dafydd Havard Will Champion
Gomer Owen Ieuan Rhys Williams
First Neighbor Nancy Wickwire Simon Wolfe
Second Neighbor Sada Thompson Joyani Ghosh
First Woman Sada Thompson Marianne Engelke
Second Woman Nancy Wickwire Joyani Ghosh
Child's Voice Sada Thompson Emma Weisberg
First Drowned Allen F. Collins Jonny Cohen
Second Drowned Dylan Thomas Sam Raby
Third Drowned Allen F. Collins Kate Lewis
Fourth Drowned Dion Allen Mercer Gary
Fifth Drowned Dylan Thomas Aviva Galpert
Voice of a Guide Book Roy Poole John Humphrys Will Champion
Billy Roy Poole Sam Raby
Johnny Cristo Dion Allen Simon Wolfe
Dicky Allen F. Collins Jacob Rosenberg


  • To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea. - opening lines, spoken by First Voice
  • We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood - prayer of the Reverend Eli Jenkins
  • Black as a chimbley!
  • And No-Good Boyo is up to no good... in the wash house.

References in other media


  1. ^ Dylan Thomas: The Collected Letters edited by Paul Ferris. Macmillan 1985.
  2. ^ The Dylan Thomas Trail, Y Lolfa 2002
  3. ^ See pp285-313 of D N Thomas (2004)Dylan Remembered 1935-53, vol 2, Seren, as well as published articles collected at http://undermilkwood.webs.com
  4. ^ Dylan's Llareggub map at The National Library of Wales's website
  5. ^ The Burning Baby. Dated October 1934 in the 'Red Notebook' and first published in the magazine Contemporary Poetry and Prose, issue for May 1936. This information listed by Walford Davies in Dylan Thomas: Collected Stories. Phoenix, 2000.
  6. ^ Dylan Thomas, 'Under Milk Wood', The Definitive Edition (Dent: 1995.) p. 91.
  7. ^ Dylan Thomas: The Collected Letters edited by Paul Ferris. Macmillan 1985. Footnote by editor.
  8. ^ Green Man Review, "Dylan Thomas Unabridged: The Caedmon Collection"[1]
  9. ^ http://www.ozbabyboomers.com.au/theatre/2010/07_10/milk/milk.html
  10. ^ Caedmon TC 2005: liner notes to 2-LP set. This reading has been reissued as part of an 11-CD boxed set of Dylan Thomas from The Caedmon Collection, but without the detailed cast listing or very extensive original liner notes, which clarify that Thomas was still rewriting the script until the time the performance began. This would explain any discrepancies in the text between this draft and the final published version. "Evans the Death" is here identified as "Thomas the Death".
  11. ^ http://www.globalia.net/donlope/fz/lyrics/You_Can't_Do_That_On_Stage_Anymore_Vol_1.html#Yellow

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