Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

From Milford to Manhattan: A Remarkable Journey Told

Arts Feature

Heno- Grav yn Efrog Newydd , Tinopolis/ S4C , April-03-18
Arts Feature by Heno- Grav yn Efrog Newydd Easter Monday has been a dismal day by any standard. It makes all the more vivid the first shot in the 48-minute documentary for “Heno.” Gareth John Bale is in Times Square. The towers soar, the sky above New York in winter is a brilliant blue. The film is an arts programme but not restrictedly an arts programme. “Grav” itself is a work of theatre biography and the makers swiftly cut back from America to Wales and to the life. Scenic shots of Kidwelly, the view to the Gower and Mynyddygarreg follow the opening in Manhattan.

It is an emotional film, intended as praise, not discredit. The place of theatre is to elicit emotion- if it cannot do that, it is not up to much. The interviews in Carmarthenshire encounter familiar faces. Delme Thomas on his rugby team mate: “he got on with everybody and was incredibly funny.” Dafydd Iwan recalls being joined on stage: “he sang three songs and was word perfect.” Library film footage revisits the Eisteddfod and a scene on stage. 10,000 people join at Stradey Park and not a pin drop is to be heard. The film records a 10 year memorial dinner in 2017 and includes coverage of the work of the charitable Trust. The film-makers visit the Meurig Williams Community Diabetes Centre and a special club at Carmarthen's swimming school. There is a final note to this section of poignant tribute from the two now adult daughters.

Around two-thirds of the film is located in Carmarthenshire before the jump to the Torch. The tale of “Grav” the play is economically told with the editing focussed on Gareth John Bale. The makers are keen to catch the performance itself but, in addition, as a speaker offstage he is fluent and modest. At the New York venue it is up to him and he shows the tiniest bottle cap's worth of strengthening Irish whiskey.

Before these last performances there has been footage from the Fringe. The performance space has shrunk and travel has lost the marvellous set that featured in the review from Felinfach (below March 2015). At the Wales Theatre Awards the company gathers on the Sherman stage in a collective delight. Peter Doran is interesting on how a hit lifts a whole theatre. Live performance has that infectiousness. Before the cross-Atlantic departure “Grav” plays Ffwrnes. The audience as elsewhere is rapt. “It was full of emotion and humour” says an interviewee.

With its content spread across Wales and America, the life and the legacy, the tight edit allows small time for crew, producer or dramatist. Owen Thomas has written his own account: “We never imagined the show would go on to tour three more times, sell out in Edinburgh, win awards and sell over 1000 copies of the script.” He also, echoing Peter Doran, adds: “Above all I don’t think any of us imagined quite how big a part of our lives this show would go on to become; how close we would become, not just as a team, but to some really special people including Ray’s family who kindly allowed us to tell the tale. I hoped it would be special, but the first New York performance was hands down one of the best nights of my life; one that I will never ever forget...Gareth was sensational, and it is no exaggeration to say he held the American audience in the palm of his hand.”

Owen Thomas gets no more than a few lines in the “Heno” film. But one comment is a reminder that success is never inevitable. At the beginning all venture is a leap of faith. Before he has written a word a CEO at Llanelli says to him “I hope you realise what you've taken on here.”

Television does not often visit theatre; this is a full film of the life and the play.

“Grav yn Efrog Newydd”/ “Grav in New York” can be viewed at

Owen Thomas' article can be read at

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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