Emma Geliot's picture

A Good Clean Heart  Img credit Pallasca Photography


How vital is it for us to know the truth of our identity? What happens when who we think we are is suddenly altered and what gets lost in translation? Elaine Paton goes to find out at The Other Room.

It is rare to experience a perfectly orchestrated piece of theatre.But at The Other Room I experienced just that, with a powerful cast who seamlessly brought this wonderfully written, very funny, very human play right into the audience's laps.

Producer Kate Wasserberg is to be congratulated on nurturing the talents of Alun Saunders, a relatively new Welsh playright, in developing A Good Clean Heart.Wasserberg has surrounded Saunders with a talented team to realise an outstanding interpretation of this beautifully/niftily crafted piece of writing.

Actors Dorian Simpson (Jay) and James Ifan (Hefin) under the brilliant direction of Mared Swain hook us in from the first moment they speak to us about their story.

Jay and Hefin are brothers who were removed from their Mother when they were young boys. Jay was eight and his little brother Hefin a baby in a push chair. Hefin is adopted and grows up in rural Wales, unaware he has a brother who lives in London. Hef s native tongue is Welsh, Jay s is Souf Lahndan.

Hef s life ambition rests on being successful in the looming rugby trial. Nothing is going to stop him now and waking up on his 18th birthday with a crashing hangover is not the best timing for his Mam and Dad to want to have achat .

The wordadoption used to be cloaked in secrecy, as shameful as that other dreaded wordillegitimate . Thankfully attitudes have changed. Hef knows he is adopted so what news can be so ominously urgent that his parents insist it can t wait?

Mam hands him a white envelope as if it was a grenade, while Dad warns things could get a bitcomplicated. As Hef pulls out of the envelope a hand-written letter from his brother Jay, the devastating effects of deception erupt.None of us like to be duped, but when it comes to hiding the facts about kith and kin it explodes in the it can produce an angry shift of perception and identity.

The fact that the blood running in Hef s veins is not Welsh but English, is as shocking as discovering the existence of an older brother

All parents strive to do their best for their offspring to protect them from harm. Monumental decisions are made behind the scenes of a child s life, the implications of which are unpredictable.Hef is thrown into a catastrophic crisis of identity. Feelingbetrayed and angry he heads up the M4 to London with a fuck-you fire in his belly.

Hef enters his older brother Jay s life at rather an inconvenient time. But then life is never convenient and Jay does his brotherly best to protect hisbaby bruvverfrom the predatory urban jungle of Jay s existence, where danger and the law are waiting to pounce at any moment.

The saying, 'blood runs thicker than water', is reflected in the dramatic events that unfold with the reuniting of these blood brothers.Young Hef is keen to embrace Jay s life while Jay isn t sure this is such a good idea.

A Good Clean Heart

Arriving at Victoria Coach station, this na ve Welsh boyo and his streetwise brother bump along together in the familiarity of strangeness, developing a teasing banter to deal with their mutually bad breath and foreign language mix ups.

At the heart of every adoption, is the woman who gave birth, the Mother, and in this case Jay want s to protect Hef from her too. Jay describes her asan excited kid on crack , but Jay loves her and Hef wants to meet her. After all, she s Mum, right?

Mum is in shock when her long lost son appears on the doorstep. Chain smoking her way through the guilty cavern that opens up before her, she reaches for a large mirror and the karaoke machine to lighten up this homecoming.

Hef, falling in love with his new bonkers family, wants to leave hisgoody two shoes life behind.Jay sees through the tacky glamour of it all but his words of caution are drowned out by Mum s enthusiastic singing.

Despite the fragility of this fragmented family they all have good clean hearts. The writing dips us into their painful sorrow and deftly lifts us up again as the going gets intense. As this unlikely trio gets to know each other, the tension gives way to great comedy combined with moving moments of tenderness.

Saunders threw himself into writing this play when he and his partner experienced a lengthy, disappointing delay during their three-year process of adopting a child. I imagine there will be another stunning play when they finally get the family they wish for.

Erin Maddocks' ingenuous set, is animated by lighting and sound designers, Kay Morison and Dyfan Jones, while Zakk Hein s video projections transport us to new places and strange atmospheres.

The differing languages of Welsh and English are dealt with in this bi-lingual piece with Hef speaking Welsh throughout and Jay English. The projected subtitles, are non intrusive, easy to read and visually varied, adding another layer of comedy and poignancy whilst removing the boundaries of language.

The Other Room s aims are to presentup close work with, 'a global perspective , whilst celebratingWales as a bilingual nation . This third show in their opening season more than fits the bill. Don t miss out!

A Good Clean Heart is at Porters, Cardiff until 16 May 2015


Images: Pallasca Photography