A Good Clean Heart

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 16 Aug 2016
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A Good Clean Heart

Bilingualism is buried in the genes of Alun Saunders' beautifully crafted play, told in Welsh and English. It's inspired, in part, by his own experience of adopting two children – and his realisation that so many birth siblings are fostered separately, growing up with completely different cultural identities. 

Jay and Hefin are one such pair: Hefin is a Welsh speaker with a loving nuclear family, while Jay lives with his chaotic birth mother in London. Carl Davies' ingenious, versatile set design morphs from a Welsh bus shelter to the New Cross living room where Hefin meets Jay, the mixed-race half brother he barely knows. James Ifan is volatile, but gentle as Hefin, an awkward teenager who's prone to bursts of articulate fury. And Oliver Wellington's charisma shines through the slightly less nuanced role of Jay, the caring older brother who's still firmly off the rails.
It's a story that's naturally bilingual, skipping between English and Welsh and privileging neither. Projected surtitles highlight the brothers' misunderstandings as they learn to understand each other: when Hefin tells Jay "caru ti" (love you), he hears it as "cuppa tea?". But the play's linguistic tour-de-force comes when the brothers rap in Welsh and English to Dizzee Rascal's 'Bonkers', in a riotous moment of cross-cultural silliness.
Although Jay's home life with his birth mother is painted in bleak terms, he's almost too good, never expressing fury or frustration at the life he's trapped in. But the gulfs between the brothers' two languages expose deeper cracks: the yawning injustice of the world they're born into, and divided by.