Roy Gravell, for those of you not too familiar with the name, is a Welsh icon. Diabetes may have led to his death at the awfully young age of 56, but the man known as Grav had already cemented his place as a rugby legend and cultural icon. It was a remarkable life, one that Torch Theatre Company presents in a solid hour-and-a-bit-long show.
For all intents and purposes, Grav is a celebratory production. Somewhat episodic in form, it moves back and forth between different milestones in Gravell’s life, from his exploits on the field to a memorable exchange with Peter O’Toole. Gareth Bale is wonderful as Grav, displaying both great comic timing and emotional depth. A recounting of the first (and only) time his father came to see him play is especially powerful.
Revisiting Grav’s accomplishments is extremely enjoyable, and writer Owen Thomas comes at the material with a lot of love and passion. In celebrating those accomplishments, though, Thomas skirts over the less positive aspects of Grav’s life. His struggle with diabetes is given a brief mention at the very end of the play and, while the relationship with his father is brilliantly expressed, the reasons behind his death aren’t. Other than the odd glimpse, this isn’t a production interested in painting the all-round picture.
What you do get, however, is a play brimming with nostalgia, genuine laugh-out-loud humour and, above all, respect. Grav, the man, celebrated life, taking the negatives in his stride. Fittingly Grav, the play, does exactly the same thing.