Owen Thomas writes from the US about taking Grav to New York
Steam billowing through manholes, yellow cabs buzzing through the streets, skyscrapers splitting the clouds. New York is unlike any city I’ve ever seen. It is an exciting, living, breathing, sprawling, car honking, confident, colourful mass of people, food and sights. Last week I saw my writing performed onstage in the city that never sleeps, something I will reflect upon in future nights when sleep evades.
If you don’t know, then ‘Grav’ is a one man show about the life story of Ray Gravell, a Welsh Rugby International who went on to become an icon. A man who could count sports star, film star, TV star, and family man as chapters of his 56 brief years. It stars Gareth John Bale as Ray Gravell, and is directed by Peter Doran, the Artistic Director of the wonderful Torch Theatre who produce the show superbly.
When ‘Grav’ was first performed in February 2015 we all hoped it would be well received. 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. We also never thought it would go on to be performed 88 times, and that shows 86, 87 and 88 would be in New York. 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. At a drinks reception beforehand, I was proud to say a few words before introducing Mr Gareth Morgan, the Welsh Assembly representative in the US with the rather glamorous title of ‘Head of North America. He said some lovely things about the journey of the show, but more importantly about growing up in West Wales and his own memories of ‘Grav’. With Ray’s widow Mari and daughter’s Manon and Gwenan in attendance this was made extra special.
I have watched Gareth perform the play countless times and have never felt nervous since the first performance back on February 6th 2015. But this was different, and I think we all knew it. Gareth was sensational, and it is no exaggeration to say he held the American audience in the palm of his hand.
As the final line was spoken and Gareth left the stage the audience stood as one. I stood last, content to watch this moment and let it burn into my memory. It marked a huge milestone on the journey of this play, and a moment nobody can ever take away from us. During the hubbub that follows the end of a performance I went and sat on the fire escape, looked up at the New York skyline and pondered just how far we had come since Gareth first rang me and said ‘what do you know about Ray Gravell?’
We were followed on our journey by a terrific film crew from S4C, and the results of their work can be seen in a documentary to be screened on Easter Monday at 7.00pm. I remember standing in a row with Peter and Gareth, the sound of chattering American voices in the background, and being asked how we all felt. I said something, but I can’t say for sure what it was. I just hope it wasn’t incoherent.
Peter Doran, Owen Thomas and Gareth John Bale
Gareth John Bale
Towards the end of ‘Grav’ he says ‘life is moments’. And this moment, at 8.45pm on Friday 16th March 2018, in a little theatre on West 28th Street, just off 5th Avenue in New York City, this was one of mine.