Dylan Thomas’s reputation isn’t the only one to precede him as the audience files in for Dylan Thomas – The Man, The Myth: Guy Masterson, the award-winning actor, producer and director who helped hone the script, and who co-presents it with Thomas’s granddaughter, Hannah Ellis, is hardly a recluse when it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe. Still, it is difficult to know what to expect from something that is not a play, but – in Masterson’s own words, a “theatrical event” with an emotional arc.
In the event, DDTMTM is closer to a lecture than a play, with Ellis narrating her tale of Thomas’s life from her seat at one side of the stage (Masterson is seated opposite), the upstage area being taken up by a large screen depicting photographs of the author, his family, and the idyllic places he has lived. However, the word “lecture” does not do it justice, for there are two key ingredients that lift the event beyond this pedestrian term, and these are Ellis and Masterson themselves, injecting the show with their own individual and highly personal charm.
Ellis’s touch is the most outwardly obvious – being the granddaughter of Thomas, she naturally has access to images, family anecdotes and personal reflections that only she could bring, and this does much to draw the audience in. What keeps us there are Masterson’s brief but powerful turns as Thomas, his acquaintances, and various of his literary characters, including Masterson’s now famous and ground-breaking characterisations from Under Milk Wood. Spontaneous applause is not unusual after one or two of these, such is his dramatic impact in this intimate space, and it serves as a sneak peek of what can be expected of his upcoming run of Under Milk Wood – Semi Skimmed, when it opens at the same venue on Sun 23 Aug.
For now, though, the audiences of The Man, The Myth are treated to what feels like an exclusive and intensely personal insight into the literary icon who has inspired Masterson since childhood, and whose legacy Ellis has come over time to embrace. Even those who are not similarly excited by Dylan Thomas, The Man – or his work – will find something special and touching in this unravelling of The Myth.