Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Season of Double Rugby

At Theatr Felinfach

The Torch Theatre- Grav , Theatr Felinfach , March 18, 2015
At Theatr Felinfach by The Torch Theatre- Grav Two much-loved titans of rugby are put on stage- this season. The productions tour simultaneously so that on a chilly Friday night in March they are playing to audiences just fifteen miles apart. The design, a dressing room, is the same. The productions are different in scope, and budget, but their coincidence of timing and subject makes it inevitable that they put themselves up for comparison.

The critics from England have given the larger production a thumbs-up, ranging from the positive to the ecstatic. That is good for all concerned- Sherman Cymru and London’s Arcola are production partners- as it has months of touring ahead of it.

Sam Marlowe of the Times is a critic to be reckoned with and five stars is a mighty endorsement. That it has an aching sincerity to it is undeniable, but sincerity is in itself not an end destination. “Grav” is the stronger piece, stronger because it is more theatrical.

Take design. The dressing room in “Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage” is a prop with benches and hooks for the frequent costume changes. It serves its functions but Francis Bradshaw’s set for “Grav” is a creation of vivid detail. Gareth Bale’s Ray Gravell tentatively enters a room of stained tiles, grimy windows, rusted lockers and in-growing ivy. He jumps at the sparks issued by a shorting bulb.

“Grav” has rhythmic and tonal variation some way beyond the larger production. This is in part because it includes a sound design but largely courtesy of the fact that the script is in the hands of an imaginative re-creator. A bus is described as being of such slowness as to be “like some asthmatic snail”. This may not be authentic in a documentary sense but it is vivid. Language for performance has never been the language of the everyday.

“Crouch…” largely comprises narration which, for all its energy of delivery, is direct audience address. “Grav”, paradoxically as a one-man show, has the greater stage action. The encounters- they include meetings with Peter O’Toole and director Louis Malle- have a comic vivacity to them. There is real tension as a ball ascends high towards the posts, and it is all in the telling. Such is the confidence of the show that director Peter Doran even has his actor sit with his back to the audience for the telling of an anecdote that muddles “warrior” with “worrier.”

Most of all “Grav” takes its audience into its world of rugby. The physicality is there, how it is be “facing a charging eighteen stone South African”. The sound design uses off-stage crowd song to evoke the stadium. But Owen Thomas also captures some of the inner spirit and camaraderie. A couple of eggs are cracked into a glass and it is called lunch. A fellow star player makes Gravell fret over the possibility of a creeping belly. Because Owen Thomas is able to use humour he can also take his audience into moments of poetry. Glyndwr and Gwenllian are evoked and the production creates a genuine poignancy for Grav’s last exit.

“Grav” has done well. Audiences do not gather by accident. Little Theatr Felinfach is heaving- there are a half dozen seats unfilled out of its two hundred and sixty-three- and the atmosphere of a collective coming together is tremendous. A little audience questioning reveals that the Torch has done its marketing astutely, matching media to its audience.

"Grav" scores. It doesn’t want to be documentary. It wants to be theatre and that makes it real.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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