Review: Greater Manchester Fringe Festival – Under Manc Wood

Article published: Friday, July 17th 2015

Under Manc Wood is an hour-long ode to the city of Manchester, adapted from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. It plays homage to its precursor, reworking and including the poetry of the original. But writers Chris Kelly and Penny Edwards have avoided simply superimposing Dylan’s play onto a Manchester setting.

Photograph by Nigel Maitland

It is the energy and humour of this adaptation directed by Ross Kelly that makes it more than a remodeling of Under Milk Wood and no prior knowledge of Dylan’s play is necessary for the audience to understand and enjoy the performance.

The plot is simple, contained within one day. It begins with an impressive opening monologue by a vainglorious Manchester, played by Penelope McDonald’s. The subject: herself. The echoes of Dylan are unmistakable in the enchanting language, irreverently used to describe the debris of the city: “hushed, fag-crushed streets, the nasal musical wind in the tobacco estates and polystyrene precincts”.

A glimpse into the dream world precludes the main action of the play and introduces the characters as the audience is granted an insight into their sleeping minds. The rest of the play simply follows them around on their daily routine. It is an uncomplicated story and it is the people, not the events, which make the play so entertaining.

All the characters in the play are funny. They are also all caricatures: from Mrs Pritchard-Ogmore, the braying and borderline-murderous flurry of flowery patterns and cleaning products, to Davidson, son of Davidson, the undertaker who celebrates any deaths the kismet sends his way with jaunty dance routines – they are all distinctly unique and never dull.

Under Manc Wood is a sardonic adaptation, lampooning the role of profit in Britain today. But the humour in the play means that the cynical take on 21st century relationships, ‘I love ya more than nokia’, never feels too morose. The comic melodrama equally stops the political and social commentary in the play becoming preachy and the political dimension of the changes made to the original characters adds interest. Captain Cat, for example, no longer dreams of his dead crew but is now a banker who pictures “seas of warm cash” while he sleeps.

Under Manc Wood is a energetic, fast-moving play full of humour and over-the-top caricatures. These elements of the play mean that throughout the hour there is always enough happening onstage for the audience to remain engaged and interested. It is because of Penelope McDonald’s Manchester that the pace and caricatures do not become overpowering. Part participant, part narrator, she struts from one character and situation to the next, easily holding everything together and exercising control over the spasmodic trajectory of the play, reminding the audience that out of the curious cast the lead role belongs to the city itself.

Sorcha O’Callaghan

Under Manc Wood was shown at the King’s Arms in Salford as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe, see the festival website for more information.

Penelope McDonald’s opening monologue as Manchester can be seen here at the start of an interview on That’s Manchester.

More: Culture, Manchester, QuickKick, Stage


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