REVIEW: Hiraeth (British Council NZ)

Buddug James Jones and Max Mackintosh embodying their 'Welshness' on stage. Photo courtesy of the Buddug James Jones Collective

Farm girl goes free range [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

Buddug James Jones and Max Mackintosh embodying their 'Welshness' on stage.  Photo courtesy of the Buddug James Jones Collective
Buddug James Jones and Max Mackintosh embodying their ‘Welshness’ on stage. Photo courtesy of the Buddug James Jones Collective

It was somewhat intriguing to see what Hiraeth would reveal at The Basement Theatre. The programme reinforced a number of sheepey, wooly-jumpery, folky stereotypes from the get-go, and to be honest paralleled many similar stereotypes believed worldwide about us Kiwis too.

The story of a free-range farm girl Buddug James Jones raised in Wales amongst a close-knit loving family was charming, lovely and often hilarious in its innocent portrayal of the comforts of homely familiarity versus the worldly temptations.

The three-person cast efficiently introduced comprised an innocent wholesome and intelligent farm girl, Buddug James Jones who plays herself; a bloke that played all the other characters, Max Mackintosh; and an enigmatic musician introduced as David (Grubb) and was vaguely reminiscent of the Indian Ink Theatre Company relationship between Jacob Rajan and David Ward. The later of which is primarily mute during the show not dissimilar to his namesake in Hiraeth.

Loosely translated the Welsh word ‘hiraeth’ refers an intense longing and nostalgia; a homesickness that cuts to the bone. Being an immigrant myself, who took many years to feel like Aotearoa is my true home, I get the concept in theory. But I think the story that is told where ‘the grass is greener elsewhere” is more one I can relate to.

This two-hander (plus 1) which is part of a national tour, culminating at The Basement, is the perfect show for this time of the year. It has a message but its light touch is just enough to be the ideal segway into the silly season. And I can attest to the entertainment value because it kept my attention throughout the 70-minute+ performance. However I did find the device of repetitive sequences a little bit overdrawn at times. Had they cut each of those segments by at least a third, the intended gags would’ve proven more effective without belabouring the point. But I’ll move on for fear of doing just that!

Turns out the heroine’s journey from the comfort of port-a-loos, dances and Black Dragon cider to the excitement of London (which is accessed on the M4 via Reading) was always going to be fraught with danger.

Mackintosh brings to life every other character Buddug encounters on her journey from Welsh countryside to London’s urban jungle, with impressive energy. Encounters with strange, romantic foreigners, and an evidential lack of potato storage will always be hazards whilst studying art – and is testament to the writing that deals with these themes in an appropriate manner, to avoid distraction from the show’s key messages.

Credit should be given for knocking off all the Welsh stereotypes early on, allowing them to be reintroduced and exploited in a manner mana that upholds The Basement’s tradition of fair play and political correctness.

Mackintosh’s gallant attempts to rescue our heroine from disaster and his intentionally disruptive additions had the audience in stitches, and the rest of the cast almost corpsing at poignant moments. He has the arrogant conviction and crowd manipulation down to a tee as well as is beautifully juxtaposed against James Jones’ straight-laced Welsh-woman’s persona. The lighting operator-cum-tour production manager, Tom Ayres, who is frequently addressed during the show is responsible for the intermittent outcries of “get on with the show”. However when the repetition of themes got too much I secretly hoped that he would ask them to “get on with the show” so that we could enjoy more of the quick witted humour that both James Jones and Mackintosh clearly had the capacity to deliver.

Besides the use of musical interludes, which provided the show another layer, I really liked the way in which the Welsh language was peppered throughout the piece. And although we didn’t understand the individual words we got the gist of what was being uttered on stage. In a way this enchanting use of the Welsh language draws parallels to recent Basement shows about identity and language.

Hiraeth is bound to resonate with many Aucklanders who have left their home country in search of ‘a better life’. And for those who still hanker for their previous lives, this show will definitely be relevant.

For me Hiraeth is a Good Show of Welshness that’s entertaining. I mostly liked the show, not because it was particularly amazing, but because it was good-hearted and the Welsh cakes, handed to us at the end of the show, were equally nice.

Presented by British Council NZ and Wales Arts International, Hiraeth plays at The Basement until 7 Nov. Details see The Basement

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Dione Joseph 

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