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"It's another paternity summons, Mr. Waldo."
on 15 September 2005
Written as a "play for voices" for the BBC, this work was originally performed in 1954, with Richard Burton as the First Voice, connecting all thirty-three characters--men, women, and small children. Depicting one full day in the life of Llareggub, a small town in Wales, Thomas shows its motley residents as they awaken, perform their daily tasks, socialize and gossip, and daydream about the past that might have been and the future that may yet offer hope. As is always the case with Thomas, the "play" is full of alliteration and various kinds of rhyme, with nouns and adjectives used as verbs to convey action and sense impressions simultaneously. A wry humor (Try reading the name of the town backwards, for example) and an honesty of feeling make the work engaging for the reader and charmingly illustrative of a time and place now gone.
Individual characters come alive through their own voices and through the gossip of others, spread by the postman and by neighbors. When night falls and the residents retire, their additional losses and disappointments, along with their escapes into dreams, are given voice and poignancy. Polly Garter, with her numerous children by numerous fathers, dreams of Willie Weasel, a very small man who was the love of her life. Captain Cat, the blind bell-ringer, thinks of all the sailors he knew who died at sea and Mr. Pugh dreams of poisoning his wife.
Simple songs add to the realism and the sense of character and place. An elegiac song by Polly Garter, as she remembers Willie and compares him to her other lovers, conveys an almost palpable sadness and makes Polly one of the most memorable characters. A humorous singing game by children adds to the realism, and young Gwenny's song to three very young boys is full of cheeky humor. Filled with the hurly-burly of everyday life in a small town in 1950s Wales, this and A Child's Christmas in Wales are among Thomas's most beloved works. Mary Whipple