Buddug James Jones tells the surprising story of the journey of her award-winning stage show Hiraeth, from back stage in-joke to globe-trotting success.
In 2010, when myself and Jesse Briton (director of Hiraeth) were working together in a designer and director capacity up in Edinburgh Fringe Festival, he had a running joke about the day I would perform in a show… Little did we think that that joke would become a reality, and we definitely didn’t predict how much of a incredible journey we’ve been on with that show since 2010.
The development of Hiraeth began in Lyric Hammersmith in 2011 and to be honest, I wasn’t sure this would ever become a ‘proper show’. Why would anyone want to know about my life? How do I remember my lines? What if I get hiccups on stage? These were the thoughts going through my head at the time. But, as a recent graduate struggling to get a job even in a coffee shop (of which I had a lot of experience), I decided I had to give it a bloody good go.
Now that’s all a distant memory, and in 2012 the show’s development really propelled forward after being involved with Wales Millennium Centre’s Incubator Project. And, after taking a shot at a last minute gamble for the IdeasTap Underbelly Fringe award, we won it!
We took Hiraeth up to Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. It was an enormous success! It was a bizarre experience not to be behind the lighting desk for once, and instead be on stage with Max telling people from across the world about my ‘very normal life’. Lyn Gardner, one of our neighbouring farmers and even someone from Game of Thrones (I don’t know who he was, I don’t watch it!) now know about my life, about my Dad, my Mam, my ex-boyfriends.
That month in Edinburgh was unforgettable – the press and contacts we made would not have been possible had we not gone up there. But as a company, our intention was always to create the show to tour around rural communities. The sort of communities I grew up with who would never have the opportunity to see theatre, or would never even think theatre was for them. Theatre when I was growing up was about speaking proper posh English, dressing in fancy clothes and listening to stories that were unrelatable. But we wanted to change this.
So, with the support of Arts Council Wales, in Autumn 2014 we toured around Welsh theatres and village halls to perform the show and also finish the nights with a ‘twmpath’, called by myself and music performed by Max and David Grubb- a Scottish fiddle player who (in our opinion) is a champion of ‘twmpaths’, or as he likes to call them ‘Ceilidhs’. The idea of the ‘twmpath’ came about when we were discussing how we wanted to give villages a real proper night out, not just a theatre show. A night they could dance and socialise and something which was familiar to all generations. I grew up going to ‘twmpaths’, so did my parents and grandparents.
In January 2015 we were nominated for the Wales Theatre Awards ‘Best production in the English Language’. We were gobsmacked! We were up against National Theatre Wales, Hijinx Theatre and August012. We were just a little company with a little show, up against…Mametz! Myself and Sarah Jane Leigh (producer), took this opportunity for a night out involving a lot of wine (yes, I’ve moved on from the days of cider & black). When they announced that we’d won, my first though was ‘this speech could go either way’…luckily I think we did alright.
We’ve really come such a long and unpredictable way since the joke in 2010, and we have a lot to look forward to – Hiraeth is about to embark on it’s UK tour next week, we will be touring New Zealand in September-November and we are currently developing our next show. I really have to thank Jesse and Max for sticking with it and being such good mates. Sarah, for taking on the massive task of managing a group of kids, and David and Tom for the music and endless amount of hilarious stories during tour. It’s a fun show to perform, and I can’t wait to get back on the road again.