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The Best of Touring Theatre

Hiraeth- Buddug James Jones Collective , Theatr Felinfach , May-22-15
The Best of Touring Theatre by Hiraeth- Buddug James Jones Collective “Hiraeth” dips back into the Ceredigion of its main setting before the company packs its musical instruments, toy tractors and inflatable dinghy for some travelling. “Are you a river or a rock?” sing the performers with the refrain added by the audience. If much of Welsh performance has a tendency toward the rock-ish, to belong solidly where it is, “Hiraeth” has become the river whose flow seems unbridled.

After its Aeron Valley homecoming Brighton Festival is next and then the flight to the Southern Hemisphere and New Zealand. As “Hiraeth” is an elegy, among other things, for departure it is appropriate. Of all the counties of Wales Cardiganshire saw the largest percentage of its historic population fall. A memorial stone a few miles downriver from Theatr Felinfach records the links with Ohio. The cultural connection to New Zealand is also strong. The Welsh Pony and Cob Society, its headquarters just across the road in Felinfach, has its flourishing New Zealand counterpart.

Three aspects strike home on re-seeing “Hiraeth”. The first is its quality of ever-freshness. Director Jesse Briton does not have to be there to give notes. The high measure of audience interactivity ensures a nightly dynamism that feeds through into a subtly altering script. Max Mackintosh now tells his audience in the accent of a London Portuguese “you no boo. This not pantomime.”

Mackintosh performs this character Carlos the Stallion, one of his many, bereft of his shirt and with a joyous bravado and confidence. “Hiraeth” is physical and varied right through to its inspired end image.

The third aspect is a reminder that there is a thin line to any endeavour that divides success from disaster. Look back to the television documentaries that accompanied “the Passion in Port Talbot.” The creators were to be heard in honesty wondering if it was all going to work. The characters assembled for “Hiraeth” range from the birds in the air to the sheep in the field to God in his heaven. It is risk, and it works.

“Hiraeth” dances on occasion on the edge of an imploding self-reflexivity. Mackintosh is on the phone to a venue, his subject the show that the audience has before their eyes. “I know what you mean” he admits “when you say it could be self-indulgent “ But it works, largely because its bitter-sweet quality and emotional pull are never sentimental. An ancestor has a main claim to posterity for once having grown a cucumber that looked like Abraham Lincoln. It is at once sad but fresh. A grandparent dies and a pet is left behind. That is all too normal. But good writing is detail. Sion the dog is not just a dog but a dog who served as Mamgu’s footrest

“Hiraeth” has a touring life into 2016 which may give it the largest audience for a piece of Welsh theatre this century. The Terry Hands’ “Under Milk Wood” with its sixty-four thousand audience holds the record for the moment. The biggest city west of Auckland is Buenos Aires. It is too late to buy this sparky trio air tickets for the hundred and fiftieth commemorations. But to complete the circle “Hiraeth” ought to be seen in the Chubut Valley and Portage County. The reasons are that it is about a Wales of truth, self-humour and modernity. But then these are the very qualities that the guardians of Heritage Theatre take the greatest care to avoid.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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