Normally at this point I have the show’s programme at my side, hastily scribbled notes filling the pages. These are what I refer to when writing a review.
This time however the programme is unusually pristine.
Once the lights dimmed and the action began my notes stopped. I gave myself over to the story of two brothers separated from an early age.
An actor and musician, playwright Alun Saunders’ has an excellent grasp on narrative.
It is Hefin’s eighteenth birthday, and today he finds out he is adopted and has a brother, Jay, who has been trying to make contact for some time now. The play is a mostly unbroken journey through this revelatory day in the lives of Hefin and Jay, raised in Wales and London respectively.
Spoken in both Welsh and English, the cohesion is admirable as we flit between brothers, languages and countries. We are transported in an instant out of a Welsh classroom into the streets of London and back again. The sense of place could easily be shattered, but “when” is so clearly defined two worlds exist on stage in harmony.
A bilingual play, Alun explores the relationship between language, culture and identity. Do we protect them, or do they protect us? Alun asks “what happens and how do any of us react when the rug is pulled from under us?” I could relate to Hefin when in Welsh class he cursed in English; and in London he’d fall into Welsh. We hold onto the things that define us, but they shift all the time.
If you, like me, don’t speak Welsh, do not worry! This was never an issue: the translation of both languages is projected as subtitles onto the set. It was interesting to read these and have the Welsh-speaking audience members react to the delivery of the spoken word.
Designed by Erin Maddocks, the set features a metallic frame playground, a swing and two rubber tyres. The floor is covered in wood chippings – funny how wood chippings can conjure up so many memories. It looks harsh, industrial and unforgiving, but is endlessly malleable. Every location is clearly defined as my imagination is invited to fill out empty spaces and populate the stage. But wherever we are taken and however the brothers interact with the set, it remains rooted in childhood. Its juxtaposition with adulthood is powerful. The two brothers, aged eighteen and twenty-five, often feel like – and sometimes become – children. It is unnerving to witness things that shouldn’t, but nonetheless do, belong in the playground.
The lighting and video design by Katy Morison and Zakk Hein respectively is effective, helping realise and define each new world. Projections throw graffiti, Facebook messages, emails, and handwritten letters against walls. Blurred, evocative footage sends us hurtling around on red double-deckers. The simple use of a phone’s torchlight on a dark stage pushes us into the hidden recesses of a room. One particularly special moment saw the brothers in a whirlwind of light and sound in a short-lived, slick chase scene.
Sound Designer Dyfan Jones opens the play with pumping dance music – one note I did manage was “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat”. It feels more like a soundtrack to a Welsh teenage boy’s life than an actual creed. The music we choose shapes our identity, and it is a joy to hear Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers” sung first in English, then in Welsh.
Dorian Simpson (Jay) and James Ifan (Hefin)
The two performances are spellbinding. James Ifan and Dorian Simpson play Hefin and Jay respectively, but also narrate and perform all other characters. Dorian is especially skilful at capturing the essence, behaviours and movement of others. James takes us on his rollercoaster of emotion from start to finish; and the two have an irresistible confidence and together they will melt your heart and charm your socks off.
Director Mared Swain ensures none of the humour in Alun’s writing escapes – it is a surprisingly funny play about adoption. She orchestrates a complex, technically sophisticated production, and pulls all the right heartstrings.
The third and final instalment in The Other Room’s ‘Life In Close-Up’ season, A Good Clean Heart is a highly sensitive and enjoyable exploration of identity, fraternal love, and what it means to be someone new.
As if they hadn’t done enough, the good people at The Other Room gave everyone a Chomp bar on the way out. It was Chomplimentary.
On until May 16th, be sure to pick up your ticket from their website www.otherroomtheatre.com
Do not miss this!
Photos by Pallasca Photography