Sunday, December 18, 2022

A Child's Christmas in Wales - The Power of Memories

Review by Judd Hollander

Vivid recollections of a time long ago often strike a poignant note. Especially to those who never experienced them but wish so much that they could. Such a case in point is A Child's Christmas in Wales. Written by Dylan Thomas in 1952 and subsequently adapted as a musical by Charlotte Moore, artistic director of the Irish Repertory Theatre, this marks the show's sixth return engagement to the Irish Rep stage, following its premiere there in 2002.

The cast of six, with music director David Hancock Turner providing accompaniment on the piano, present a story awash with wistfulness and nostalgia. They each taking turns to relate, via the viewpoint of a 12-year-old Thomas, the Christmas traditions and celebrations he experienced as a child. A time when it was "always snowing" in December and how, no matter the memory, everything always seemed to be so much bigger.

Kylie Kuioka, Dan Macke, Ali Ewoldt, Kerry Konte, Jay Aubrey Jones and Ashley Robinson in "A Child's Christmas in Wales". (Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg) 

What makes the tale so universal, is how the text constantly conjures up situations with which one can emphasize. Such as having to interact with relatives you only saw once a year. Or getting a chance to taste such delicacies that warmed both your stomach and your soul. Along with those you would rather die before trying a second time. The latter humorously recalled with the song "Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake".

There were also the promises and pleas children made to God as they apologized for anything they might have done which could cause them to forfeit the Christmas gifts they were hoping to receive. Not to mention always having to be grateful for any "useless presents" they were given. "Useless” in this case defined as items more functional (i.e., a sweater or pair of mittens) than anything resembling fun. Mixed in with the frivolity is a bit of sadness when the story mentions relatives so old and fragile they looked like they might break. One can’t help but wonder if such persons were present simply because they were family, or because they had nowhere else to go.

Thomas has a firm grasp of imagery in his writing. Something Moore clearly understood when she chose to bring the story to life on stage. The tale offering a window into a child's view of a world filled with endless adventures. Ones which range from throwing snowballs at cats, to going caroling and winding up at a mysterious old house where who knows what, or who, may dwell inside. Most importantly, it was where one's home was always a sanctuary to whatever dangers or mysteries may exist outside its walls.

Kylie Kuioka, Ali Edoldt, Jay Aubrey Jones, Dan Macke, Ashley Robinson, Kerry Conte in "A Child's Christmas in Wales". (Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg)

As it is when it comes to memories, details tend to blur and merge. For as is pointed out, "one Christmas was so much like another in those years"; and "I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six". Of course, it isn't always important exactly how or when a special memory occurred, but rather only that it did happen.

Moore's adaptation, which she also directed, offers an enjoyable mix of story and song. The show featuring holiday carols both traditional and those written especially for the production. Musical highlights include "Take My Hand, Tomorrow's Christmas" and "Open Your Eyes", both written by Moore; "I Don't Want a Lot for Christmas", where two of the cast recite their dream list of presents, including the one thing they really want; and classic holiday carols "A-Soling (Hey, Ho, Nobody Home"), sung perfectly by the entire cast; and "In the Bleak Midwinter". In a nice touch, the program contains a glossary which lists some of the Welsh terms used during the performance. Several of the songs presented are also sung in Welsh.

Moore uses her directorial skills to lovingly create both a warm homey atmosphere and the feeling of a performance piece. One where the actors may go a bit over the top as they relate some of the more comical lyrics and situations. However in the end they accomplish the desired effect - to bring the audience quite willingly into the story, while allowing them to feel a part of what is happening on stage.

Dan Macke, Ali Ewoldt, Jay Aubrey Jones, Ashley Robinson and Kerry Conte in "A Child's Christmas in Wales". (Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg)

The cast is quite enjoyable, with the standouts including Kerry Conte, who has an absolutely wonderful singing voice; Ashley Robinson as Thomas' father, and Dan Macke in the Dylan Thomas role.

The set by John Lee Beatty is filled with Christmas trees and lights, all of which beautifully capture the yuletide sprit. While also giving the impression of being in an outdoor cathedral. Costumes by David Toser fit perfectly with the holiday season.

In what has become a perennial favorite, A Child's Christmas in Wales recalls a time and place that only existed for perhaps a select few, but which brilliantly taps into the universal longing of home, family and being together at the holidays.

Featuring: Kerry Conte (Ensemble), Ali Ewoldt (Ensemble) Jay Aubrey Jones (Ensemble), Kylie Kuioka (Ensemble), Dan Macke (Ensemble), Ashley Robinson (Ensemble)

A Child's Christmas in Wales

by Dylan Thomas

Adapted and Directed by Charlotte Moore

Music Supervision by John Bell

Music Direction by David Hancock Turner

Setting Designed by John Lee Beatty

Costume Design by David Toser

Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb

Presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre

132 West 22nd Street

Tickets: 212-727-2337 or

Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission

Closes: December 31, 2022



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