The difficulties of leaving your past behind are explored in this energetic and life-affirming show.
It’s tough enough for a young woman to leave home when no one wants her to go. But Bud is also struggling with the knowledge that her departure signals the beginning of the end for the five-generation family farm. And with the young leaving the land behind for the lure of London, is she also contributing to the decline of Welsh tradition itself?
These are powerful themes, but in Hiraeth, performed at the Soho Theatre by the Buddug James Jones Collective, they are transformed into an energetic, imaginative and extremely entertaining performance. Welsh language scenes are meshed seamlessly into the whole, with translations to help an English audience, but the meaning is already evident from the inspiring cast.
Bud herself is played with an open, fresh-faced charm by Buddug James Jones, exposing her insecurities as well as her loving family relationships as the country mouse sets out for the city. All her excitement and anticipation is initially crushed by the realities of loneliness and rejection but a last-gasp ghostly visit from her newly deceased Grandma spurs her on to make the most of the opportunities offered by her urban life.
Buddug James Jones is an exceptional force on stage – funny, fearless and tender all at once.
She is supported by the indefatigable Max Mackintosh, who zips around at lighting speed as he takes on more or less all the remaining roles – Mum, Dad, Gran, dastardly lover and kind friend. He has a deft comic touch and his frenetic energy levels are counterbalanced by Bud’s calmer approach. Mackintosh is also a gifted musician, playing alongside David Grubb, and together they have created some beautifully nuanced musical backdrops to the show, with violin, mandolin and guitar.
Director Jesse Briton is also one of the show’s creators, and has done a fine job in balancing its levels of energy and pathos.
The only quibble with the script is the rather unpleasant monologue from Bud’s first boyfriend, a Latin lover who expounds at length, unchallenged, on her physical shortcomings before dumping her. It doesn’t seem to have any particular relevance to the story, except that it reinforces the suggestion that Bud is going to have trouble attracting a man in London – a highly unlikely scenario, by the way – and serves only to eventually summon a ‘boo’ from the audience.
But this is a minor fault, and the multi-layered script bounds between Welsh nationalism, English social mores and self-discovery, while engaging with its audience in the most direct and appealing manner.
Hiraeth won the Ideas Tap Underbelly Award in 2014, and deserves its continuing success. And the delicious Welsh cakes at the door are a charming – and very welcome – touch.
• Hiraeth at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1 3NE. Tickets 0207 478 0100.
Until Saturday 21 March, 7pm.
Touring UK from April-June.