I am falling a little bit in love with The Other Room, Cardiff’s first pub theatre. There may well be an integral relationship with great company, great theatre, wine, and the convenience of location.
After seeing ‘Blasted’ which took a little while to absorb, I went back this week to see the final piece of the inaugural ‘Life in Close Up’ season. Written by actor-playwright Alun Saunders, the piece draws heavily on personal experience- Welsh culture and the adoption process.
‘A Good Clean Heart’ is the story of two brothers, separated through the adoption process, living in different cultures- family, lifestyle, education and expectation.
As we walked into the theatre, as always the penny dropped. A conversation with the fairy godmother about surtitles. My recent experience and dislike of them. (There is a logic in this, I am a reader, first and foremost, I am drawn to words, which felt at a recent production like a complete distraction from what was happening on the stage).
The penny, ‘cha ching’, I am about to go into a bilingual play, my GCSE Welsh from 20 (really!) years ago is unlikely to help. Surtitles, the only hope. Could this play see my gut reaction reversed?
Yes. Let’s just get that bit over and done with.
Kicking the playground woodchip on the floor, watching the interaction between two actors, the lights dimming, and a separation.
Instantly into the life of Hefin, turning 18, a rugby trial imminent, the experience of a hangover, the ineptitude of ‘bad head’ being a suitable translation of hangover (pen-mawr). Because of course, this is being played out in Welsh.
As Hefin’s parents finally tell him what he’s always known, in spite of his bad head, that he is adopted.
That he might be expecting this news, that he is not surprised. Maybe by one piece of news, showing how our simplest foundations can be intrinsically crumbled.
Hefin might be English.
As Hefin’s absorbs and breaks under the weight of this, so he goes in search of his new hope, his brother.
And so, our first introduction to the integration of technology and stage, as the letter from Jaysen is absorbed (still lol-ing), emails exchanged and Facebook initiated.
It is fantastic, the dialogue between Hefin (James Ifan) and Jay (Dorian Simpson) is seamlessly intertwined, the direction of Mared Swain in creating this, Erin Maddock’s design and the video design by Zakk Hein, dialogues are integrated, combining cultures and upbringings. Glancing upwards provides the text to the vocal, the absolute clever of the ‘live’ dialogue of Facebook messenger being played out.
It is real, unfolding in front of you.
The small setting creating the intimacy, the pressure as the relationship unfolds, to Victoria Bus Station, to what is real: “Why are you black?” the initial unease, converted to want, to need, to bonding.
I loved the scenes on the bus journey, everything played out- proximity, pressure, stress, resolution.
To the living space, to Hefin meeting his mother, the amazing characterisation by James Ifan and Dorian Simpson of the mother and boyfriend, and later of Ros, Hefin’s mam, brought the additional dimension, making it real, the unfolding of the relationships, the absolute humour and appropriateness of ‘Bonkers’ being played out in English and Welsh, and to the breaking point.
And to the sentiment of the play, especially for this mum, the bonds of blood and upbringing, the never-ending complexity of parental love. The onstage portrayal by these two actors made an empathy possible, characterisations by two, of humour and poignancy, made the tears well up. To me, it is the humour which keeps everything possible, the ability to keep from sentiment and remain with our reality is tribute to the text, the script allows this to happen, the empathy of the path ahead, the reality of the potential.
We each have our points of reference. For me, a Welsh mum bringing up her English children in Wales, with her English husband; the English husband accepting of the 3 year olds arriving home from nursery speaking ‘gobbledigook’; the friend at uni who was adopting siblings as I carried my first child.
Life. On stage. At home. It makes us confront, to experience, to understand, and to be.
A good clean heart furthers this journey. To understand. To move forward.
A Good Clean Heart is at The Other Room, Cardiff until 16th May 2015.
Disclosure: I received a ticket for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are my own.