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NWR Issue 105

Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York

Photo: Huw Walters

You know when it gets to a few days before Christmas and you’ve heard ‘Fairytale of New York’ 864 times in the last 23 days and all you want to do in life is smash the rest of Shane MacGowan’s rotten teeth in? That’s how I feel about the DT100 celebrations (the DT stands for ‘Death by Thomas’) now that we’ve entered the home straight of this zealous overkill of our most famous poet.

So when New Welsh Review asked me to go to Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York, a new show based partly on Dylan’s exploits in Greenwich Village, I naturally jumped at the chance. What was that? I hear you say. That doesn’t make any sense. Well, Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York isn’t your normal type of struggling artiste Dylan bandwagon payday opportunity. It’s an immersive experience where three very different Dylans (represented as solitary, celebrity, and Welsh figures respectively) take to the floor of the White Horse Tavern, one of his favourite drinking establishments, and invite you to step into a universe of their own making, from the Wales of his youth to the tragic end of his last American tour. Much like Daniel G Williams’ ‘Dylan Live’ collaborative jazz lecture about Dylan’s influence on the beat poets {an expanded version of the lecture that formed the performance’s core was published in NWR 104}, it offers new ways of thinking about Dylan’s legacy and influence.

And I could not stress how important it is to think about Dylan in a new way. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was wary of Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York at first. Dylan’s mythic role can in part be traced back to his extracurricular activities, with his chief passion away from the word being social drinking. A mini industry has sprung up around it. You can buy books about his favourite pubs, go on drinking tours, and even visit a pub named after him.

But Dylan was known to be a bit of a liability when drunk, and it’s pretty obvious that a sustained period of heavy drinking contributed to his early death. I find Dylan’s drinking to be the least interesting thing about him. His poetry wasn’t a gift to the world because of his chronic addiction to alcohol, but in spite of it. This is why I expected Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York to be as boring as the old guy down your local who drinks halves of bitters all day and flecks spittle all over you as he mumbles something you can’t be arsed listening to.

But Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York is not like that at all. The celebrity Dylan of the 1950s (I think he was the celebrity one, but it was occasionally hard to keep track of which Dylan was supposed to be which), played by a most convincing Ceri Owain Murphy, might like a glass or two of whisky – even charming, in true Dylan fashion, a member of the audience to go up and ‘buy’ him a drink at one point – but what concerns him most is his words and their reception from his audience. This is also true of the more philosophical younger ‘solitary’ Dylan, played by Arthur Hughes, who held the audience in awe with the power of the poet’s words.

One of the more interesting exchanges happens when William S Burroughs (played by Rhys Downing, who also plays a most welcoming landlord) enters the room, and contests Dylan’s legacy directly with the man. It’s a brave facet and one that has not been explored too deeply in this centenary year, what with the 36-hour Dylathon readings and star-studded re-enactments of Under Milk Wood.

Indeed, the writer Ben Gwalchmai (who also plays the third, ‘Welsh’ Dylan) and artistic director David Drake of Ffotogallery should be commended for capturing not only the poet’s spirit but also the many sides to his personality. This is no better captured than when Dylan approaches a frosty Djuna Barnes, played by Catriona James, who has no problem in cutting him down and demanding a poem. Dylan reluctantly leafs through a collection of hand-scribbled notes before reciting his work to perfection, in a touching scene reminiscent of a famous contemporary account of his last lecture tour.

This is how I think of Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York, being reluctant of the concept at first, but eventually feeling rewarded for having seen it.

Bedazzled showed in Newquay and Cardiff up to 1 November and was organized by Ffotogallery as part of the Dylan Thomas centenary.


previous blog: James Dickson Innes at MOMA, Y Tabernacl, Machynlleth, until 8 November
next blog: Dance performance Caitlin in Swansea


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