Actor playing Dylan Thomas thankful for Swift song

Matthew Rhys
Welsh actor Matthew Rhys will portray the poet Dylan Thomas in a play in New York [Getty Images]

He is the Welsh poet and writer name dropped by Taylor Swift in her new album, The Tortured Poets Department.

And on International Dylan Thomas Day, a new play for voices about his final years, will be premiered in New York on Tuesday evening.

It will be on the same stage that Under Milk Wood was performed for the first time in 1953 by the poet himself.

In the new play, Dear Mr Thomas: A New Play for Voices, Dylan will be portrayed by Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, who admitted he has a "giddy obsession" with the poet.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales' Lucy Owen, Rhys said he hopes the music icon namechecking Thomas in the chorus of the title track from her album, will introduce the poet's work to a new generation.

"There was a 12-year-old girl in our household and when the album dropped, there was great reverence on that day when we're all told to be quiet so that lyrics to be listened to.

"So when I heard Dylan mentioned I went 'woohoo' and was told to be quiet straightaway.

"Then what happened was the greatest gift to me, a 12-year-old went 'well, who is Dylan Thomas?' and wow did she ever regret asking that question.

"Eight hours later, I was still orating some of his greatest poems," he said.

Rhys said he was "incredibly happy" that Taylor Swift did that.

"What I hope is, as the way you know, she mentioned the Chelsea Hotel, and the Chelsea Hotel has now exploded in Manhattan, I just hope that a number of people Google Dylan Thomas, and an entirely new generation have their eyes open to this incredible poet.

"I'm thankful for the fact she's hopefully opened up an entirely new generation to his work."

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift will be performing in Cardiff on 18 June... will she make the trip to Dylan Thomas's home in Swansea? [Getty Images]

On playing the poet, Rhys said he could not quite believe he would be on the very stage 71 years to the minute, reading some incredible lines from Under Milk Wood.

He will be starring alongside his partner, actor Keri Russell, who he also starred with in the hit TV spy drama The Americans.

"She's playing the part of Liz Reitell who was very influential on Dylan, especially in the last months of his life, and incredibly influential in getting that first production of Under Milk Wood on at the 92NY stage.

"And obviously it was rumoured that they did have an affair," he said.

Rhys said Russell had told him that one of the first things he started to talk with her about was Dylan Thomas, and on her first visit to Wales he had insisted the first place she came to was Laugharne, and to see Dylan's writing shed and drink at Brown's hotel.

"I really couldn't believe I did this," he added.

Matthew Rhys and his wife Keri Russell
Rhys will be starring in the play alongside his partner, actor Keri Russell [Getty Images]

Dear Mr Thomas is written by Christopher Monger, from Taffs Well in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

The premier of his new play will also be read by Kate Burton, daughter of renowned Pontrhydyfen actor, Richard Burton.

He was First Voice in a recording Under Milk Wood for BBC Radio in 1954, delivering those immortal opening words: "To begin at the beginning."

But the journey leading to the very first performance of Under Milk Wood in America with Dylan himself as First Voice was a long and arduous one.

It was a letter from 92NY Poetry Centre Director John Malcolm Brinnin, who first brought Thomas to the states in 1950.

The play has been commissioned to make 150th anniversary of 92NY, and Rhys was instrumental in getting the work commissioned.

"It's been a remarkable journey to get this production to this moment.

"This incredible art and culture institution in New York was solely responsible for bringing Dylan to New York.

"The poetry director at the time was so obsessed with Thomas and hell bent on bringing him to New York that he arranged everything for him to come," he said.

Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas is perhaps Wales' best-known writer, with one of his best known works the play Under Milk Wood [BBC]

The title of this play is taken from all those letters that Brennin wrote to Dylan imploring him to come.

The poet arrived in New York determined to finish Under Milk Wood, the play follows a day in the life of the characters in a fictional Welsh fishing village, Llareggub, and had been rattling around in his head for some time.

But right up to that first performance at 92NY, Thomas was still working on it, and Rhys said it is only by chance there is a recording of him reading the work.

"It was really so last minute, Dylan was scribbling the final words up until the very end and somebody just had this idea which put a microphone on stage and record this.

Thomas died months later, in November 1953, but stories of his tours of America remain to this day, and Rhys said he was treated like a rock star by fans when he performed in New York.

"The first trip and consequently the other two kind of exploded him onto the scene and turned him into this rockstar poet.

"There were people standing in the aisles and chanting his name and chanting the names of poems that he hadn't read.

"It was the remarkable moment where a kind of lyric poet never experienced, I don't think has experienced since, it's reserved now for the kind of rock stars and pop stars.

"That kind of stature that he had, it was an early Beatlemania really."