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  • Writer's pictureCarla Keen


The Welsh have a word which has no direct English translation: hiraeth (/ˈhɪrɛθ/). This encapsulates something of homesickness (perhaps for a place/time which you cannot return to), nostalgia and sometimes grief for the past. As with the picture above, places can be a physical reminder of a fuzzy, perhaps slightly soft-focus memory.

Hometown Glory

The next ministry show, Hinterland, explores our relationship to place/location, so I wanted to write something about the feeling of leaving your hometown and then returning, a theme which we have returned to many times while rehearsing.

We have played characters who come back to the place they grew up and find it hard to communicate with friends that didn’t leave. The places these characters return to have not changed, however, the way they perceive or relate to them has.

My own hometown is Milton Keynes, which is a strange thing in itself because being one of the post-war new towns, I was the first generation to grow up there, and it was very different to most places in the UK. While I now live in Cambridge and I’m happy not to live in my hometown (for me it feels too claustrophobic to live in the place I grew up) I experience that feeling of hiraeth each time I return.

The Castle on the Hill

For me, it’s driving at 70 mph along the fast grid roads, past estates I lived in, past Campbell Park and the beacon (where it was tradition to watch the sunrise after an all-night party). It reminds me of hanging out with a group of people who shaped my life at a really important point, people who were arty and geeky; generous and weird.

(The beacon didn't look like this in the 90's, but MK is obsessed with pyramid-structures. Picture copyright @visitengland)

I walk through the City Centre, which still has the mirrored walls and concrete slabs that are part of the texture of my childhood. I remember my parents driving through Midsummer Place and seeing the reflection of the car on both sides. I am reminded of too much time spent loitering at the Point and in McDonalds; strange first dates and snogging in the back of a Nissan Micra at Linford Wood (classy).

(Milton Keynes shopping centre. Picture copyright Robert Stainforth/Alamy)

Disco 2000

Sometimes too, I reflect on the fact that, for my brother and some of my friends, while there is nostalgia, it might also be tempered by the fact that they’ve changed with these places, and are still part of their every day in the same way that my town centre is to me now. I know lots of people walk through Cambridge with a similar nostalgia for their time as an undergraduate.

There is always something full of feeling about places, memories, the people and songs we associate with them. Something about gatherings, clans and shared experience. About memories and moments — those ideas which as an artist I find endlessly fascinating and use improvisation as a medium to explore.

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