A Good Clean Heart

It may be difficult to believe that something as uncommon as bilingual theatre could work. However, A Good Clean Heart from Neontopia proves that you can mix two languages on one stage to great effect.

fan deserves credit for switching between English and Welsh at an alarming speed; the play wouldn't have been possible without his uncanny ability to do this

This play in English and Welsh (fully subtitled - don't panic!) follows two brothers, Hefin and Jay, separated at birth as they meet for an unexpectedly bumpy and difficult reunion. What follows is a moving exploration of cultural divide and to what extent we are shaped by our surroundings.

The play moves at a rapid pace for its entire duration. At the start my head was spinning and I was finding it difficult to follow both the languages. However, the play became much easier to follow later on, once I had adjusted to reading the Welsh lines off a screen and listening to the English ones. There were a few moments where the subtitles didn't appear and I couldn't work out whether this was intentional or not; it seemed more like a technical glitch than a theatrical technique.

Bilingualism was not the only standout feature of this play. Its bold use of technology and special effects to support the story was also very impressive. For instance, a Facebook messenger screen was projected on to the walls, displaying a conversation between the two boys. It was an important reminder that these lines of text were all the two characters knew of each other before their meeting.

James Ifan and Oliver Wellington, as Hefin and Jay respectively, played off each other fantastically as the two brothers. They showed real contrast on stage which highlighted how much the separation had impacted their lives. In particular, their very differing reactions to first meeting was both amusing and emotive. Both actors used multi-roling well, even switching into female characters sometimes, although the mother’s husband could have required a little more definition. Ifan deserves credit for switching between English and Welsh at an alarming speed; the play wouldn't have been possible without his uncanny ability to do this.

Theatre rarely diversifies in language but this bold choice really pays off. A bilingual play may be a difficult concept to understand, but A Good Clean Heart needs to be seen to be believed. 

Reviews by Carla van der Sluijs

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The Blurb

Hefin knows he's adopted – just not where from. Jay's felt hiraeth for 15 years. What the f*ck is hiraeth? This dynamic, bilingual play in English and Welsh from award-winning playwright Alun Saunders is the story of two brothers, raised apart in different families and languages. With animated surtitles in both languages, this is a truly accessible and exciting production of a funny and moving play. Winner of Best Playwright, Wales Theatre Awards 2015. A Neontopia and Wales Millennium Centre co-production, in association with The Other Room and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. Supported by Arts Council Wales.