Tuesday, 12 July 2016

A Clean Heart Dramaturgy: Alun Saunders @ Edfringe 2016

A Good Clean Heart 

Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61) ​  
Aug 4-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-28 18:40

Fresh from winning the Wales Theatre Award 2016 for best Playwright in the English Language, Alun Saunders, Neontopia and Wales Millennium Centre bring his funny and moving play A Good Clean Heart to Edinburgh for its Fringe debut.

Credit: Aenne Pallasca

Having suppressed any desire to know more about his early life, before he was adopted, on his 18th birthday Hefin discovers not only that has a sibling, but that he wasn't - as he'd always believed - born in Wales. On a defiant whim, Hefin takes a trip to meet his long-lost big brother, and crash-lands in a totally alien universe, just two hours down the M4. A Good Clean Heart asks whether the love between two siblings raised in different cultures can overcome their differences.
A Good Clean Heart, originally produced by and premiered at Cardiff's pub theatre The Other Room, is a moving coming-of- age story about two brothers raised by different families, and who speak different languages.

With animated surtitles in both English and Welsh, and directed by Mared Swain, this production brings exciting new Welsh writing to the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

In August 2012 my husband and I began the Adoption process to become dads… It’s been an epic, rollercoaster journey, and one on which we’ve learned an incredible amount about ourselves, about children, about the care system… It’s been QUITE an education!
Soon after this, I was set the challenge to write a short 2-hander play with a character from Wales and one from England. Thinking outside the box, I explored the idea of them being siblings who had been separated through adoption at an early age.
National pride comes in very different forms - neither less valid than the other - in the people of Wales and of England, and I thought it would be an interesting element to explore alongside this idea of a person’s identity being built on an untruth.
Thanks to a lot of hard work and faith shown in me by Mared (Swain), the play’s director, and by Kate Wasserberg, Artistic Director at Cardiff’s (award-winning) pub theatre, The Other Room, the full-length, bilingual play, A Good Clean Heart, was produced in April/May 2015, and with an overwhelmingly positive audience response, we realised that it had legs to go further.
Oh, hello Edinburgh…! 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Mared and I soon realised that we’d need to form a company in order to (even try to) source the funding to get A Good Clean Heart out there. We formed Neontopia in September (soon after our visit to the Edinburgh Fringe!), and soon began discussions with Wales Millennium Centre regarding co-producing.
Some of the original team of creatives had moved on to other projects, but we’re lucky to have retained a good few, including Zakk Hein, our AWESOME AV Designer, who’s responsible for our projected surtitles, and Dyfan Jones, our sound-as-a-pound Sound Designer. We have a new Designer in Carl Davies (who we’ve known since training at RWCMD), and the great experience of Lighting Designer, Elanor Higgins.
James Ifan, a member of the original cast is coming back to play HEFIN, and after a really inspiring casting period, meeting some terrific, open actors, we’re excited to have cast Oliver Wellington to play JAY.
By now there are so many (brilliant and dedicated) people on board, it’s feeling really exciting, and also humbling, knowing that all this work is going into getting your play ‘on’

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’ve always performed, since being very little, from the school choir to performances in Eisteddfod yr Urdd (a massive youth movement here in Wales), to playing in various orchestras and bands. Performing is just a brilliant, liberating thing.
In August 1997 I was lucky enough to attend my first National Youth Theatre of Wales course, and met Mared on the course the following year. NYTW gave me the confidence I never had, helping me to really find myself, and I can’t thank them enough for that.
After graduating from Aberystwyth University, I gained a place at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to study Acting. Having worked as an Actor now for 14 years, my Writing career is also getting somewhere (I was lucky enough to win the Wales Theatre Award for Best Playwright in the English Language for A Good Clean Heart). Exciting times!
I want to write because I want to change the world. Is that ridiculous? Obvious? I don’t mind - there are a lot of injustices and prejudices in this world - if I can inspire one person to open their mind, to accept something, to consider something deeper through something I’ve written, then I’m a happy boy.
Credit: Aenne Pallasca

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

This was my first full-length play, and was a huge challenge - I don’t think I’ve ever written so many drafts of anything in my life, BUT I like to think that it’s just made this play the best it can be. I’m less afraid of hard work than I’ve ever been.
Mared and I live bilingually - speaking, reading and understanding two languages, using both every day. We’re so lucky. We’re really excited by the idea of work which incorporates more than one language, and how to make that as accessible as possible to those who may not understand either (or both!) language(s).
We were really inspired by Welsh-learning audiences who saw the original production of AGCH, who said that they felt more positive, that they understood more than they expected, and were easily able to grasp what was happening. Many learners feel the task of learning the language is monumental, so if we can play a small part in inspiring them, then we’d really like that.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Part of our ‘motto’ is “never boring”. We’re passionate about exciting audiences, about inspiring them in some way.
We hope that audiences who have no experience of the Welsh language will leave having heard a little of it (maybe even remembering a phrase or two!), but also that they leave having seen a play which goes somewhere, where the characters go on an interesting journey.
If anybody leaves ‘bored’ we’ll be absolutely gutted - it’s our job to ensure they don’t!

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Mared wouldn’t rest, or let me rest, until we had a play which we were confident was great. Whatever the technical aspects of the production, the play has to be the main thing.
As this is a bilingual play, with one character speaking predominantly in his mother-tongue of Cymraeg, we use projected surtitles to make sure that the audience understands at all points what is going on.
The whole thing has to be dynamic - that’s what we’re aiming for, as well as throwing in a few surprises along the way…
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Without speaking ill of that which has come before, we’re passionate about creating original work - original ideas, conveyed in an original fashion. Bilingual work (in English & Welsh) is a really rare thing in Wales, surprisingly.
If anything, we’re eager to break with as many traditions as possible and inspire people to really, really enjoy theatre. It may not change your life forever, but if you can make people happy or excited and hit their emotions for an hour in a black box, then send them out into the world with a new idea, notion or realisation then, yeah, we’ve done our thing.


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