Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Buddug James Jones: Hiraeth

By | Published on Wednesday 18 March 2015

Buddug James Jones’ autobiographical performance piece concerning her departure from rural Wales for a life in the big city premiered to critical acclaim at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Since the summer, ‘Hiraeth’, praised for its warmth, energy and affectionately portrayed comic characters, has had a number of UK tour dates, and this week comes to Soho Theatre.

Interested to find out more about the show – and whether it really is properly autobiographical – I sent some questions over to Buddug, ahead of the London run.

CM: What does the word ‘Hiraeth’ mean?
BJJ: ‘Hiraeth’ is a Welsh word which has no direct translation to English. It’s a emotion you feel for your home and country and is a mixture of longing, pride and nostalgia.

CM: What happens in the show? Does it have a linear narrative? What themes does it address?
BJJ: The show is about my life growing up on a farm in West Wales, and going through that period of my life when I decided (and realised) I didn’t fit in to West Wales or farming. I moved to London when I was 19, and the show is about that journey; discovering myself and looking for a place to belong. I tell the story with the help of Max Mackintosh, who performs as my mam, dad, grandmother, dog, ex boyfriends and much more! We also have David Grubb, a brilliant fiddle player to accompany us on stage. It’s a comedy with real heart and includes some home made Welsh cakes actually made by my Mam! The show highlights the current difficulties the farming industry faces, but it’s also about leaving home, it’s about Wales and it’s about ‘Hiraeth’.

CM: Do you play yourself, or a version of yourself…? Is it entirely autobiographical?
BJJ: Most of the show is true (though the truth is somewhat embellished here and there) and comes from real events in my life; and yes, I do play myself in the show. It really does show what growing up in rural Wales is like right now, because I experienced the wildness of it first hand. All the characters in the show are based on real people, though they have been exaggerated a bit!

CM: You’re actually a designer, not a performer, aren’t you? How different is this from your normal job? Harder or easier?
BJJ: Yes, my ‘day job’ is as a designer, and performing is so different! Firstly, you don’t (and can’t afford to) stay up until 4am trying to finish a costume, or finding the perfect chair on eBay or painting your set!

With devising, you have to be quick, fearless and impulsive – like in a rugby game. But with all the elements you have to consider designing feels more like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube – does your design work with the show, what fabric is right, can it fit in a van, how do you avoid the set falling on the cast…? The list is endless and you have to find a way to make it all work and fit into place!

Being on stage makes you feel so alive, exhilarated and in the moment. With designing, all of your work has been done by then and the exciting bits happen when you first see the set on stage with the cast in costume during tech! The way you work, the hours you do, the skills you need are so different and it’s really great to have this variety. I’ve really started to respect how theatre brings people from different background and different skills together and I hope I can carry on doing both for a long time.

CM: What gave you the idea to do this?
BJJ: It all came about when Jesse Briton (the show’s director) and I worked on a show called ‘Bound’, which Jesse wrote and directed, and I designed. Jesse became fascinated by my story of leaving the farm, and especially how guilty I felt about doing so and my discomfort in talking about the farm. I was getting frustrated by how the media only showed the ‘figures and facts’ of all the young farmers leaving, and never showed the full story, especially from the point of view of the leaving farmers. After Jesse spent a long time persuading me to step on to the stage, we decided to give it a go in 2011 when Lyric Hammersmith offered us a spot on their Lyric Lounge scratch nights. We built the show together and with Max Mackintosh, who also made up all the songs.

CM: Is there an agenda? Do you have specific points to make about the issue of young people leaving the countryside for the town?
BJJ: We never set out to stamp an opinion, or to create a right or wrong to the story of young people leaving for the cities. We wanted to show people this world that exists at their doorsteps, which we never hear about. It’s about showing the rural life of the UK as it is right now, and it’s about highlighting the issues young people face when growing up rurally. However, although the show is set rurally and highlights this way of life, it is essentially about leaving home, and leaving what you know to find yourself and find your own way in life.

CM: The show first appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe and has since been on tour around the country. Has the show changed and developed since its first performance?
BJJ: The show has changed quite a bit since Edinburgh Fringe as we’ve got an addition to the cast! David joined us to play the fiddle for our ‘twmpaths’ (a Welsh version of the Scottish ‘Ceilidh’), which we did at the end of the shows during our tour of Wales. However, from day one of rehearsals we realised he would be great in the whole show. He’s added more charm, humour and incredible music to the show!

CM: What’s next for the show – are you touring it further or will it soon be packed away…?
BJJ: We’ve got a busy year ahead! We’ll be touring UK wide between April and June, and then we’ll be touring New Zealand in the Autumn. We absolutely love performing this show, sharing the story and meeting new people along the way- we’re not ready to pack it in just yet!

CM: What else is next for you? Any new projects coming up?
BJJ: We’ve just finished a week of R&D for our next show, which is based on our friend Frank Thomas’s life. He is an incredible spoken word artist, whose day job is in an anti-venom factory in rural Wales! We’re not sure of the title or the exact story yet, but we know that it will include me, Max and David with the addition of Frank and Eloise Secker, and Jesse directing again. All I can say is it’s like when Bob Dylan went electric…

‘Hiraeth’ is on at Soho Theatre until 21 Mar. See this page here for more info and tickets.

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