Review A Good Clean Heart, The Other Room by James Knight

Photo by Pallasca Photography
Alun Saunders’ A Good Clean Heart, produced by The Other Room is very much a play for the modern age. It concerns two brothers, Hefin (James Ifan), a teenage wannabe rugby player from Carmarthen, and Jay (Dorian Simpson), a black man from London currently under house arrest, who were separated at childhood and raised apart. Throughout the hour runtime we see their correspondences; their emails, their texts, their letters projected onto the set as they track each other down and arrange to meet. It is a play about words, the limitations of words, the limitations of Welsh, the insular nature of both Wales and London, the bi-lingual breakdown of two societies clashing. The play, in both Welsh and English with the different subtitles running on a screen above the actors highlights the difference in hearing and reading the two languages. Bi-lingual audience members laugh and respond to certain moments whilst non-Welsh speakers respond to different sequences creating a very personal and subjective viewing experience.
A Good Clean Heart is essentially a showcase for the small moments in life, an exhibition of memories and family conversations. It is also an exhibition of performances. Theatre throughout its history has been about actors hiding, actors losing themselves behind the masks of their characters, but that is not the case here. Refreshingly, Ifan and Simpson stay true to their own voices and manage to portray characters straight out of life, it’s as if they are living life right before our very eyes. Ifan brilliantly captures the awkwardness of his character whilst Simpson is not only utterly convincing as Jay, but also manages to bring to fruition through mimic the characters of his girlfriend and mother as if they were there on the stage with him. But most impressively, the duo are not just acting opposite each other, but acting very much in unison as one, despite the fact that their characters come from such different worlds, as Jay, ambiguous to Wales states, ‘Port Talbot; sounds posh.’
The intimacy of the Other Room Theatre at Porter’s gives the production a vitality and realness, whilst the wonderfully designed setting of a dingy playground representing the character’s forgotten childhood adds a potency to the atmosphere. Watching A Good Clean Heart is almost a physical experience, it’s a roller coaster of a play where the actors pour sweat and so do the audience. The story jumps forward in time without an interval or any set alterations and there’s an extraordinarily comic running sequence that needs to be seen to be admired. Although at times there is too much freneticism, too much information to take in and too few moments where the play is allowed to breathe, but that should not take anything away from the overall effectiveness and thoughtfulness of the production. A Good Clean Heart has a bit of everything, the characters sing, rap, dance, cry, argue, jump about, laugh, shout, and most importantly; love.
A Good Clean Heart
Written by Alun Saunders
Directed by Mared Swain
Part of The Other Room Theatre’s ‘Life in Close-Up’ season.
1 – 16 May
£12.50/10.50 conc.
£5 tickets available for jobseekers (proof of status required).

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