Motoring along with oodles of charm and a mile-wide smile, this lovely show perfectly captures that feeling of nostalgia and homesickness that comes with leaving home. Its title – a Welsh word describing precisely this state – may have no direct English translation, but its appeal is joyfully universal.
Written and performed by theatre designer and performance artist Buddug James Jones, the story is straightforward enough. Playfully weaving biography and fiction, it follows the frustration of ‘Bud’ with life in her tiny West Wales community. A chance encounter with a singer at a festival incites her to ditch the family farm for the bright lights of London.
But the beauty of this show isn’t so much what it’s about, but how it goes about doing what it does. With actor and musician Max Macintosh playing a dizzying array of roles alongside her, Jones has created something that combines real heart and wit with well staged, meta-theatrical physical comedy – and an inflatable raft.
Director Jesse Briton keeps the atmosphere light and generous as we meet – and quickly grow to love – Bud’s family and friends. The script is packed with affectionately comic observations of small-town rural life and the complicated rush of emotions that follows change. A gentle vein of absurdity keeps whimsy at bay and feeds into a joyfully unsentimental ending that embraces us like a hug.
Swamped in chunky knitwear, Jones is hugely sympathetic as Bud. She imbues her sort-of-self alter ego with an awkward unworldliness that rings true. She evokes that very familiar frustration of wanting something else, while not being sure what that is. We’ve all been in Bud’s shoes as she tries to make sense of the confusing codes of big city life.
Meanwhile, Macintosh should win some kind of award for the biggest number of roles played in a theatrical production. He’s a blur of aprons, caps and guitars as he zooms around the stage bringing to life Bud’s father, mother, grandmother, friends and lovers. He’s funny and winningly endearing as he single-handedly populates the landscape of the play.
The pair are a great double-act, as they kick open invisible car doors and – in one extended sequence – involve the audience in a hilariously ridiculous art project prompted by Bud’s university course. It’s a knowing but never alienating style of staging – the writing and performances keep us caring about the fate of the characters even while winking at us.
With its playground sense of fun and emotional generosity, it would be almost impossible to leave Hiraeth without a spring in your step.