We had every reason to think that 2015 might be a bad case of the morning-after-the-night-before; a rapid comedown from the 15-month-long party that was the Dylan Thomas centenary, that unique and unprecedented celebration of a 20th century poet. Particularly as 2014 had ended on a high with two exciting developments; the acquisition by Swansea University of the ‘lost’ poetry notebook that had been offered for sale at Sothebys; and the announcement by Literature Wales of the founding of an annual International Dylan Thomas Day. So, following the razzmatazz of 2014, it was perhaps inevitable that 2015 would start on a quieter note.
However we didn’t have to wait too long before it was a seismic shift in world politics that had Dylan’s words gaining global reach once again. Following the spectacular victory for the radical Syriza party in the Greek general election in January, Dylan Thomas was trending on twitter as new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis paraphrased his words on the BBC’s Today programme.
“Greek democracy chose, to quote your very own Dylan Thomas, to stop going gently into the night and to rage against the dying of the light”
There was more evidence of Dylan’s international appeal when March 12th marked the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Dylan Thomas Society of Australia. The thriving society continues to maintain a regular events programme under the chairmanship of Clive Woosnam. At home in Wales Jeff Towns’ three-year term as chairman of the Dylan Thomas Society of Great Britain ended and he was succeeded by Geoff Haden of the Dylan Thomas Birthplace. The society launched a new website in September, and has a new presence on facebook and twitter.
Film & TV
June saw the UK premiere of the new film version of Under Milk Wood, directed by Kevin Allen. The film starring Rhys Ifans and Charlotte Church was also released on DVD, and the soundtrack was released on CD in December. June also saw the US premiere of Set Fire To The Stars, and the film which stars Celyn Jones and Elijah Wood, was also released on DVD.
There was also a CD release of the recording of the entire 36-hour performance of 2014’s Dylathon at the Grand Theatre, Swansea.
2015 awards season saw Tom Hollander winning the Royal Television Society Best Actor award for his depiction of Dylan Thomas in the BBC drama A Poet in New York, and Dylan Thomas related productions did well at the BAFTA Cymru awards. A Poet in New York won two awards including Best Feature / TV Film, and Set Fire To The Stars won three awards including the award for Original Music Score awarded to Gruff Rhys.
Dylan’s words also featured on television. An hour-long special episode of the BBC Wales comedy High Hopes titled “Do Not Go Gentle” was the first episode made following the death of leading actress Margaret John; it featured a plot about the attempt to forge a Dylan Thomas poem and included numerous references to Dylan’s work. ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ proved as ubiquitous as ever turning up in various programmes including Doctor Who, Hollyoaks, Top Gear, Clare in the Community, and in one of Sky’s advertisements for Formula One motor racing.
International Dylan Thomas Day
May 14th marked the first annual International Dylan Thomas Day, a celebration of the life and work of Dylan Thomas held on the anniversary of the first ever stage performance of Under Milk Wood in New York in 1953. The Welsh Assembly Government has provided funding through Literature Wales to help promote the day for three years. The day, which began with the unveiling of the ‘lost’ notebook at Swansea University, saw numerous events taking place in Wales and overseas, and was greeted enthusiastically on social media, with #DylanDay trending on twitter. May 14th also saw the publication of A Dylan Odyssey, the book based on Literature Wales’ 2014 Dylan Thomas-inspired literary tourism programme featuring fifteen trails across Wales, London, Oxford and New York.
May marked the 50th anniversary of the recording of the late Stan Tracey’s classic jazz suite inspired by Under Milk Wood. Stan’s son Clark and his band toured the work during it’s anniversary year.
At July’s Penzance Literary Festival a plaque commemorating Dylan’s marriage to Caitlin Macnamara was unveiled at the Penzance building where they’d tied the knot in 1937. Later in the year Dylan also featured on a mural of famous people connected to Penzance. It’s good to see Dylan’s time in Cornwall being celebrated. Tenby also did Dylan proud when the town’s Civic Society erected a plaque to commemorate a rare reading of Under Milk Wood in the town by Dylan just a few weeks before his death in 1953. Thanks also to the Royal Mail who erected a plaque featuring the Dylan Thomas stamp on a postbox in Swansea.
In August an opera based on Dylan’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ written by Robert Manno premiered at the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice in New York, and the same month Dylan’s granddaughter Hannah Ellis teamed up with actor Guy Masterson to stage Dylan Thomas : The Man, the Myth, at the Edinburgh Festival.
Canadian artist Sarah Beck chose Dylan’s words for her sculpture ‘The Light’ which honoured the final days of the tungsten light bulb in North America. It has been on display at Jubilee Plaza in Fort McMurray, Alberta, where it was expected that the 360 tungsten bulbs would slowly fail towards the end of of 2015.
Dylan’s work featured prominently in October’s National Poetry Day, including a film featuring Sean Bean reading Dylan’s ‘Notes on the Art of Poetry’, and Jonathan Pryce reading the same work on Radio 4’s Today programme.
October also saw excellent press coverage for the re-emergence of a little know Dylan Thomas poem. ‘A Dream of Winter’ was originally published in the January 1942 issue of Lilliput magazine, but has not been included in any UK publication since. Professor John Goodby discovered the poem when he was sent a cutting from the Lilliput magazine by a friend, and arranged a celebration of it’s re-discovery. At the London event the poem was read by actor Celyn Jones to an invited audience of Dylan Thomas fans, and artist Dan Llywelyn Hall unveiled a painting inspired by the work.
On November 7th the annual wreath-laying ceremony took place at Dylan’s memorial in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey. The well-attended event arranged by the poet’s family and the Dylan Thomas Society included poetry readings, and a solo rendition of the the Rev Eli Jenkin’s Prayer by Dylan’s son-in-law Trefor Ellis. Dylan’s great-grandson Charlie laid the wreath.
In December US hip hop artist G-Eazy quoted from Dylan’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ on the opening track of his new album
The last day of the year brought news that actress Sian Phillips is to be awarded the DBE for her services to drama. Dame Sian met Dylan Thomas in the early days of her acting career and has gone on appear in numerous productions featuring his work.
2015 saw the death of Gordon Stuart, the last artist to paint Dylan Thomas during his lifetime, and of actor Richard Davies, who featured in a number of productions of Dylan Thomas’ work including playing Mr Pritchard in the 1972 film version of Under Milk Wood. At the memorial service for the former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, the broadcaster and satirist Ian Hislop read Dylan’s ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’.
What will 2016 bring? Will more lost notebooks and manuscripts be unearthed, or will more forgotten poems have their moment in the spot light? Which writers, artists, musicians and film-makers will be inspired by Dylan’s words? What we do know is that we can look foward to the paperback edition of the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas, edited by John Goodby, as well as the publication of Professor Goodby’s extensive notes to the collected poems. We can also look forward to Howard Marks’ recordings of Dylan Thomas poems being released on vinyl on Record Store Day, and to the release of Gruff Rhys’s soundtrack to Set Fire To The Stars. And whatever else we do, we’ll celebrate the second annual International Dylan Thomas Day on May 14th; let’s help make it a day to remember, another year to remember, and keep the flag flying for Dylan Thomas.
Thanks to Sarah Beck for the use of her photograph of ‘The Light’, thanks to Jak Stringer for the photo of the plaque in Penzance, thanks to Tenby Museum for the use of the Tenby plaque photo, thanks to Dan Llywelyn Hall for allowing us to use his ‘Dream of Winter’. Wreath-laying photo by Andrew Dally