Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Critical Praise for Simon Nehan, Gareth John Bale, Owen Thomas

At the Torch

Carwyn , the Torch & Touring Newport to Caernarfon , March 24, 2022
At the Torch by Carwyn Sport and theatre have much in common. "Grav" went out to people and places that theatre of Wales does not normally reach. The Torch naturally enough sought a follow-up and Owen Thomas found a new subject in rugby. "Grav" director Peter Doran stepped to one side, "Grav" actor Gareth John Bale taking on the director role. Simon Nehan, an actor of power unseen on a stage of Wales for too long, returned powerfully to play Carwyn James.

It is good that theatre sometimes makes the jump to general culture. All three, actor, director, author, appeared on a BBC Cymru Wales main news feature. All three spoke respectfully about their re-making of a complex, multi-faceted, not easy personality.

The pre-tour publicity spoke of a man who adored sport, culture and politics equally, the career spanning teaching, broadcasting, coaching and espionage.

"Carwyn" was commissioned for the fiftieth anniversary of the 1971 Lions series win in New Zealand. Covid-19 did away with that anniversary but the tour of 2022 hit another fiftieth memory, Llanelli's 1972 9-3 victory against the All Blacks.

Reviewers liked what they saw.

Sarah Morgan Jones was there for Nation Cymru.

"Carwyn James first rises from his sequestered end in the ensuite of his Amsterdam hotel room in 1983...Lighting the first of many stage cigarettes, besuited, and elegant, he speaks to his dead self in the bathroom, and lays out the game plan. “A chance to summarise – we were always good at that.”

"So begins this remarkable example of elliptical storytelling and reflection, the story of Carwyn James: rugby genius, linguist, bibliophile, intellectual, aspiring politician, erstwhile spy, plagued by psoriasis, mental angst and denial, a man wrestling with his sexuality, set apart from his peers. “Two Welsh caps but never a Lion, never to step into that formidable ring, until the chance came to be the lion tamer…”

"From the same stable that created "Grav", and just as accessible,..."Carwyn" is a play that really must be seen....Owen Thomas brings Carwyn to life with a monologue which is Dylanesque in its beauty...Simon Nehan inhabits Carwyn’s uncomfortable skin as if it were his own."

Jay Gent was there for Wales Arts Review

"....a triumphant return to live theatre with their latest original production...whereas the tale of Ray Gravell was a celebration of a salt-of-the-Earth sportsman, national hero and celebrity known and loved by all, the life of Carwyn James is much more circumspect.

"A man who revolutionised rugby as both a player and team-leading strategist, but remained something of an enigma to even those who knew him best – perhaps even to himself – as this play suggests in its tight and economical run time, taking place entirely in the Amsterdam hotel room where James died of a heart attack in 1983, aged fifty-three.

"Carwyn’s story talks us through his life arc with truth and dignity, building up a portrait in flesh of a man unappreciated and misunderstood in his own time...Simon Nehan, he uncannily captures James’ stature and his well-spoken diction echoes Carwyn’s rich speech patterns...Owen Thomas does the enigmatic Carwyn justice...with lyrical internal rhymes and wordplay that reflects a man clearly too complex and erudite for the locker room mentality of rugby culture half a century hence.

"By his own admission, Carwyn is a “man of duality… The cerebral outsider with the common touch”, not only a master tactician arranging his players on the pitch like a chess champion, but also a politically active aesthete enamoured with the works of Chekhov, Tolstoy and Shakespeare."

"Carwyn" opened at the Torch in February and toured 1st-12th March to the Riverfront, Pontardawe, Brycheiniog, Mwldan, Chapter, Taliesin and Galeri.

Quotations taken with thanks and acknowledgements. The full reviews can be read at

"Grav" in Felinfach can be read below 17 March 2015.
"Grav" in London 26 March 2019.
Grav" in New York 3 April 2018

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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