British actor brings poetry to life

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Photo by Lingyuxiu Zhong.

Running, jumping, sweat and tears may not be expected from a poetry recitation, but at a Wednesday night performance by actor Guy Masterson, that was indeed the case.

Masterson, a British actor, director and producer, performed his one-man show “Fern Hill & Other Dylan Thomas” at the Yale Center for British Art before an audience of about 100 students, faculty and members of the New Haven community. The show — Masterson’s adaptation of three short stories and 10 poems by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas — won him the Stage Award for Best Actor at its 2001 premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Masterson said that though the poetry is not his own, performing Thomas’ words night after night makes the stories a part of his own history and his personal connection to the poetry accounts for his active performance style.

“[The poetry] takes me over,” Masterson said. “All the movement I do is spontaneous, it’s never the same. It expresses my imagination [at] the moment.”

In his energetic performance of the poems “Bank Holiday” and “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Masterson mimed children building sandcastles and throwing snowballs, garnering laughs from the audience.

Masterson said he fell in love with the language of Dylan Thomas after Burton introduced him to the poet’s work as a young man.

“I voraciously devoured [Thomas’ poems],” he said.

But having trained originally as a biochemist, Masterson said he was not immediately drawn into the acting business. He said it was only after the death of his great-uncle — seven-time Academy Award nominee Richard Burton — that he decided to pursue acting, at a friend’s suggestion. He went on to study drama at UCLA and the London Academy of Music and Drama.

Still, Masterson said he does not see himself as a creative force, but rather as a vehicle for Thomas’ words.

“[Performance] is the method by which the playwright’s words reach the audience,” he said. “There is no creation in that for me.”

Presentations of Dylan Thomas’ work are rare, said attendee Peter Rumbin. The performance, he said, was similar to a master class in that Masterson explained his method in between poems.

Cole Tucker-Walton ’14 said that it was exciting to see poetry in action, when he is accustomed to reading it only.

Masterson has performed Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood” over 3000 times worldwide.

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