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Hiraeth, Underbelly
© Jorge Lizalde

Hiraeth review

Underbelly

By Andrzej Lukowski
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Sweetly hilarious lo-fi comedy ‘Hireath’ probably isn’t the single most original piece of work you’ll see on the Fringe this year. But it almost feel like it is, a combination of single-minded intent, outsider art naivety and sheer funniness all serve to lend a sense of total freshness.

‘I am not an actor, but I’m going to give it a bloody good go’ says theatre designer Buddug James Jones, the wide-eyed, very Welsh heroine of what purports to be an autobiographical play abut her own life, in which she plays herself, and Max Mackintosh (who proudly declares he is an actor) tackles all other characters. 

Born and raised in the Carmarthenshire town of Newcastle Emlyn and heir to a 300-year-old farming dynasty, Jones has an epiphany at a west Wales festival and decides that she wants to move to London to study, a decision that leaves her loveable – albeit weirdly gypsy-obsessed – family aghast. But she does indeed move to the Big Smoke, to distinctly mixed fortunes: having a fling with an awful Portuguese cad, meeting Mackintosh in a bar, generally missing home and failing to fit in with her more urbane fellow students (the title is an untranslatable Welsh word that's vaguely synonymous with homesickness).

What a synopsis doesn’t really convey is the winningly odd way Jones and Mackintosh go about telling the tale. Totally unsmiling, and with a voice filled with mounting panic, Jones has the jittery air of a person who has taken everything about life far, far too seriously, while Mackintosh saunters through his characters in an almost indecently laid-back fashion. Their manner is seriously eccentric: interludes include a wildly xenophobic Welsh rap song for kids, a lengthy, almost autistic consideration of the definition of art, and a ludicrously over-extended blow-by-blow rundown of what Jones’s various relatives grow on their farms.

‘Hiraeth’ essentially plays with notions of amateurism, outsider art and Welsh rural identity to give us the subliminal sense that James doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing, when in fact it’s fairly self-evident she does. But whatever the case, it’s jolly funny and you get a free Welsh cake at the end – score.

By Andrzej Lukowski

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