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Why won’t corporate sponsors touch Dylan Thomas’ 100th birthday celebrations?

Ian McKellen and Katherine Jenkins will read from Under Milk Wood. Photo: Sarah Dunn Ian McKellen is among nominees for the BBC Audio Drama Awards Photo: Sarah Dunn
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I know the Welsh as essentially warm-hearted people, garrulous but also generous to a fault with a tough national character striated with coal dust and a deep love of the arts, especially music and literature. But is there a corner of the Welsh character that is mean when it comes to its culture?

To mark the 100th birthday of Wales’ greatest bard, Dylan Thomas, at the end of October, that great theatrical interpreter of literature Michael Bogdanov is producing a star-studded spectacular at the Grand Theatre in Swansea, Thomas’ home city.

The Dylathon on October 26 and 27 is 36 hours of non-stop readings from the Thomas’ works as part of the Dylan Thomas 100 Festival, all in aid of the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts. The prince is Prince Charles who will read – okay, recorded, but the rest of it’s live – Fern Hill, but the rest of the cast will include some of the theatrical royalty.

Ian McKellen will team up with soprano Katherine Jenkins as Captain Cat and Rosie Probert for their dialogue in Under Milk Wood. Jonathan Pryce will read A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Sian Phillips will read Thomas’ first letter to his wife Caitlin. Michael Sheen, in a live link form New York, will render And Death Shall Have No Dominion. So much is the old ruffian in people’s hearts still that non-theatricals are queuing up to be part of it – rugby players Colin Charvis, JPR Williams and Ryan Jones, dress designer David Emanuel, weather girl Sian Lloyd and the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston are all in it, with more pleading emails waiting in Bogdanov’s inbox.

Backing up are Swansea schoolchildren, youth and community groups, and the Morriston Orpheus Choir who will sing The Reverend Ely Jenkins Sunset Poem from Under Milk Wood.

[pullquote]All the stars are giving their talents for nothing[/pullquote]

As it is, all the stars are giving their talents for nothing, including Bogdanov, and the professional crew and admin are effectively working for expenses. The Dylathon has a patron, but not a sponsoring one: Hannah Ellis, Thomas’s grand-daughter, who will read his letter to his daughter Aeronwy, Hannah’s mum.

An extraordinary line up for an extraordinary event – it happens on Thomas’s actual 100th birthday – but it’s all being done on a shoestring. Bogdanov has managed to persuade Swansea to stump up £10,000 and the Arts Council of Wales has found £40,000, and that’s it. No corporate sponsors, Welsh or otherwise, could be talked into coughing up.

Guided by Arts and Business Cymru Bogdanov has scoured the country for £50,000 that would have paid for, for instance, online streaming technology and an after show reception. A carefully devised pitch met with a blank, organisations so disinterested that they couldn’t even be bothered to say why they weren’t in.

But Bogdanov, founder and artistic director of the Wales Theatre Company, hasn’t given up. This week he’s sending out yet another letter, with a Thomas quote at its head:

Some people react physically to the magic of poetry, to the moments, that is, of authentic revelation, of the communication, the sharing, at its highest level.

Read more columns from Simon Tait

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