The audacity of the Basement is that it’s a venue where just about anything can happen. Hiraeth is a classic example: a slick, polished and light-hearted coming-of-age story of a young Welsh woman who decides to leave behind the juvenile joys of port-a-loo tipping and cavorting around in potato fields is a little gem.
Loosely translated as nostalgia or a desire for the past, Hiraeth is a well-crafted rambunctious re-telling that occasionally feels like it’s running on steroids. Created by Jesse Briton (who is also the director) Buddug James Jones and Max Mackintosh (both of whom also perform), this highly physical and delightfully irreverent chronicle of what happens when you decide to leave home for the big smoke is guaranteed to become an instant favourite.
Part of its charm is the trio on stage. James Jones (who confesses she is a stage designer-turned-actor) and Mackintosh (who is brilliant at performing a versatile range of characters) are joined by David Grubb who provides much of the lilting melodies and musical ambience for the piece.
James Jones is an endearing performer. Her wistful naivety and unflagging determination to leave behind Newcastle Emlyn is admirable, especially considering her parents and the town’s collective scepticism. Even the birds and the local sheep are having their doubts. But James Jones’ one strong hold is her Mam-gu who urges her granddaughter to be a river not a rock, a metaphor that is beautifully extended throughout the piece and climaxes in a fluoro dinghy and effervescent finale.
Together James Jones, Mackintosh and Grubb deliver a compelling performance but the script does need a little work. It’s wonderful to hear Welsh spoken and sung on an Auckland stage and done with so much genuine joie de vivre. In contrast, however, the scene with the Portuguese boyfriend Carlos (who certainly seems more Spanish than otherwise) sits slightly awkwardly with the other vignettes.
While the story does propel itself along at high-speed, occasionally some of the more poignant moments are glossed over. Similarly, some of the clichés that might add local flavour do little more than suggest the obvious, e.g. that this wee village might be stuck in a time warp.
Hiraeth is an excellent night out for feel-good theatre delivered with every ounce of collective energy from the team. Seth Rook Williams’ lighting design is perfect for the rapid transitions and the music is rich and engaging in all its familiarity and quiet shedding of illusions. This is a special little show.