Buddug James Jones’ opening words – ‘I am not an actor, but I’m going to give it a bloody good go’ – set the tone for an eccentric and fun-packed hour of biography by this talented young company. Fortunately for everyone, co-performer Max Mackintosh is a trained actor, while David Grubb, who doesn’t speak much, adds violin to Max’s guitar. There is also Tom ‘Get on with the show’ Ayres on the sound-desk trying to keep order.
Buddug comes from four generations of Carmarthenshire farmers. Her town is Newcastle Emlyn from which people rarely get away. But, as wise old grandma, (Mamgu in Welsh – Max in a housecoat) says, both before and after her death, you are either a rock or a river, and a river needs to flow.
A knowingly mad-cap performance style pairs Bud’s wide-eyed joy in telling her story with Max’s adroit characterisations. We meet the farming dynasty, hear about ‘a cucumber that looked like Abraham Lincoln’, learn the names of the villages and become fond of daft boyfriend Ed and his dafter toothy friend. There is an alarmingly xenophobic song about Wales and an evocative set-piece about picking potatoes (that must be a Welsh thing, surely potatoes are dug?) It’s all enjoyably lo-fi in appearance and production values, in keeping with the ‘non-actor’ premise.
Buddug’s epiphany comes at a dance, by way of singing-star Mike Stevens (Max in sunglasses) and she sets her sights on London. The days of throwing chips at the chip-van and downing snake-bite are over. She is going to university to become an artist.
But leaving home, especially one as remote and rooted as this, is not going to be easy. ‘Hiraeth’, a sort of nostalgic homesickness, is going to kick in. London is tough for newcomers and Buddug feels lost here. She can’t even eat out alone – that table by the toilets, can she have that? Oh no, that’s the napkin-folding table.
A fling with a Portuguese stud supplies a welcome narrative shift, but we don’t really want to hear from this arrogant cad, however well performed by the now bare-chested Max, clearly enjoying himself. It’s the only sour note of the evening, and Buddug is too self-deprecating here.
Eventually, so they tell us, she meets the ‘real’ Max in a London bar. He is her Welsh salvation. They will be just friends and make a show. She’s spent three years at university doing theatre design: doing art is easy, she says.
For all its cod-amateurishness, Hiraeth is a well-crafted and joyful hour: fast, funny, beautifully performed, and refreshingly open. It’s a personal story on a universal theme that makes you long for the hills. Any show that gets me to shout ‘This is Art’ to a room full of strangers and rewards us all with a Welsh-cake gets my vote. Legend.