Review A Good Clean Heart, The Other Room By Rebecca Hobbs

Alun Saunders –A Good Clean Heart

I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself.
So I, to find a mother and a brother,

In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.

(The Comedy of Errors I.ii.33)


Dorian Simpson (Jay) and James Ifan (Hefin)

Credit:Pallasca photography

At a time of political uncertainty as the 2015 election looms ever closer, Alun Saunders’ bilingual play A Good Clean Heart, presented by The Other Room could not be more relevant to its contemporary moment. Welsh manifestos are overridden with promises in relation to the promotion and savouring of the Welsh language, its place in education and our culture. Plaid Cymru wave the banner for our nation, striving to give Wales its own identity but what is it exactly that defines that nationality? I am not a Welsh speaker and yet I pride myself on being Welsh.
Reviving the sibling separation motif of Shakespearean comedy, A Good Clean Heart addresses these difficult questions regarding our cultural and personal identity through the story of two brothers raised in different cultures and familial environments; Hefin (James Ifan) adopted in Wales, well-educated and a first-language Welsh speaker and Jay (Dorian Simpson) trapped in the foster system having never had the opportunity to make the best of himself, living in London with his biological mother (who he was initially taken from) after doing a stint in jail.
Rather than moving the story towards the pastoral as Shakespearean comedy anticipates, Saunders inverts the motif and the green world is thrust into the city as Hefin is finally told on his eighteenth birthday of a brother who has been reaching out to him for years. Immediately, in a moment of spontaneity, he heads to London for the long-awaited – on Jay’s part – reunion. For Hefin, the Welsh language is an intrinsic part of who he is, even his career prospects are defined by his national identity. Along with the discovery of his English roots, despite the brothers’ almost instantaneous fraternal bond, they struggle to come to terms with the years and opportunities they have missed. The reunited family home is thrown into chaos and brings disastrous consequences.
The sincerity in Saunders script is particularly moving. The developing relationship between Hefin and Jay is sensitive and intuitive and both actors shine in their juxtaposed roles. Dorian Simpson as Jay is loveable and endearing despite these challenging assumptions he adopts as the brother who was left behind and his Welsh counterpart James Ifan comically captures the stereotypically sheltered and innocent character of a boy growing up in rural Wales. Both Dorian and James’s ability to jump between characters playing their mother and her current boyfriend is effortless and a nice touch which invokes that movement of identity.
The play’s separation and re-unification motif is rejuvenated through Erin Maddocks’s transformation of the room into a playground, a moment of nostalgia that revives the boys lost childhood. Mared Swain’s visual interpretation of language through projections and screen is creative and original as the script literally bounces off the walls, bringing to life that movement of language. The tech team really have their work cut out!
A funny, moving and thought-provoking play that brings a new accessibility to a bilingual narrative. A perfect way to round-up the ‘Life in Close Up’ season in the capital city of Wales.

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