Theatre of the week: Under Milk Wood, The Jungle Book and the Royal Ballet’s Beauty Mixed Programme

Across the country, outdoor (and indoor) theatre is flourishing in these socially distanced times

Michael Sheen on stage
The ‘magnetic’ Michael Sheen in Under Milk Wood
(Image credit: National Theatre)

“To begin at the beginning,” runs the opening line of Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas’s great “drama for voices” about life in and around the peculiar, fictional Welsh town of Llareggub. But in Lyndsey Turner’s terrific new staging at the National Theatre (until 24 July, in the Olivier), the line is “not quite the beginning”, said Sarah Hemming in the FT.

A framing prologue has been added, in which a middle-aged man is visiting his father, a dementia patient, in a care home – and uses Thomas’s text as a way of trying to reconnect with him. It proves an “inspired and poignant” approach, in a production that benefits from some fine acting, including an “outstanding” central turn from Michael Sheen: his performance is “magnetic” and “immensely moving”.

Across the country, outdoor theatre is flourishing in these socially distanced times, said Jo Caird in The Guardian. Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for example, is marking its 70th anniversary with the opening of three new performance spaces in its riverside gardens. In Suffolk, a vast Second World War bomb crater has been transformed into a woodland amphitheatre at Thorington. And even the RSC has built a new Garden Theatre on the banks of the Avon.

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One of the first big summer shows to open is The Jungle Book at Chester’s well-established Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, said Clare Brennan in The Observer. Glyn Maxwell’s “witty script” is pitched just right, between the well-loved Disney animation and Rudyard Kipling’s original text. Gitika Buttoo’s direction delivers “satisfying surprises”; the cast of actor-musicians “rock in multiple roles”; and the charming design – featuring beds of real plants and newly planted trees – is “ecology in action”.

The Jungle Book play

The Royal Ballet has reopened with a new three-hour, three-part performance under the billing Beauty Mixed Programme (select dates until 11 July; live stream on 9 July). Owing to some of the dancers having to self-isolate, choreographer Valentino Zucchetti was reworking his new Anemoi until “right before curtain up”, in an effort to “keep the show on the road”, said Zoe Anderson in The Independent. “It was a very assured re-stitching, with no obvious trailing threads.”

Still, this is fairly conventional stuff: “ballet people doing ballet things”. There’s more character in the second part of the show, Divertissements, “with each short work creating a distinctive mood”. Wayne McGregor’s Morgen is set to a Richard Strauss song, sung by Sarah-Jane Lewis; Laura Morera and Ryoichi Hirano perform a duet from Kenneth MacMillan’s Winter Dreams.

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For the stand-alone finale, Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov star in the wedding celebration (scaled down, as so many weddings currently are) from the third act of The Sleeping Beauty, ending the evening with a “fairytale glow”.

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