As a Playwright it is undoubtedly ‘Grav’ that has had the biggest impact on my career. The show has toured extensively, been performed as part of the opening of the Rugby World Cup, sold out at the Edinburgh Festival and received the Audience Award in 2016 at the Wales Theatre Awards. In three weeks I will be flying out to New York where the play will continue its extraordinary journey with three off-Broadway performances. My gratitude to Ray and his wonderful family for allowing me to tell his story is matched only by my gratitude for having crossed paths with Gareth John Bale and Peter Doran.
Throughout this incredible adventure, Peter and I had long discussed the possibility of working together again. It was always a case of finding the right project. Happily, that project came along and I now find myself on the eve of the opening of our latest Torch Theatre production, ‘The Wood’.
The play grew out of a conversation between Ifan Huw Dafydd and Peter Doran following a performance of ‘Grav’. Huw had been working on the idea for a play about Mametz for many years and asked Peter to read it. Peter felt the idea was great and asked if it would be OK for me to read it.
As soon as I read it I knew that I wanted to adapt his work and help bring his story to the stage. With Huw’s permission I set about taking his cherished project and adapting it into my own writing style.
My first decision was to turn the play from a one man show into a two hander. Dramatically, an old man revisiting a battlefield is poignant and engaging, but the added introduction of a soldier from the past allows for greater depth. It is also important in my own development as a writer that I didn’t want to follow a one man show with another one man show (although ‘Benny’ was too tempting to resist).
Carefully researching the play was crucial. I read and watched as much as I could about World War One, Mametz Wood in particular. But, as a guided tour around Mynydd Y Garreg proved in the development of ‘Grav’, there is no substitute for visiting the location and experiencing it for oneself.
Last July, with my daughters and my parents, I set off to explore the battlefields. It was a remarkable experience, and one I would recommend to anyone. The enormity of sacrifice is laid bare in the immaculate scattered cemeteries that populate the countryside between the fields and motorways.
Arriving at Mametz I was struck by the eerie still. For almost two hours I walked the woods, and I felt the play falling into place. The relentlessness of nature doing its best to hide away the past, the ground still pockmarked with shells and bullets. At one point a bird broke cover and flew up into the canopy, causing me to start. Then ahead of me a deer, nonchalantly chewing the grass, acknowledged me, but didn’t flee. Instead it meandered along, and I followed it, the juxtaposition of the still of the moment stark when considered with the chaos of a century ago. Mametz Wood really is a place of ghosts.
The play has gone through several drafts and redrafts, but it was on a family holiday to Bilbao where it really clicked. The poetic style of ‘Grav’ had returned and the characters of Dan and Billy took shape.
As with any time a writer sees a new play unveiled, I feel a mixture of emotions. Excitement, disbelief, vulnerability and good fortune take their turns to be my predominant feeling. With Grav I was terrified in taking on an icon. In ‘The Wood’ I am equally terrified in taking on an event of such huge personal catastrophe for so many of the people of this world. But it is important that the theatre marks this centenary, and I am very lucky to be working with some tremendously talented and creative people.
Ifan Huw Dafydd is an actor of huge stature in Wales, and I am delighted to be working with him. Since seeing Gwydion Rhys’s captivating performance as Alan Turing in ‘To Kill A Machine’ he has long been someone I have wanted to write for. It is also exciting to have a score composed by James Williams. And in Peter Doran I am blessed to be working with a man who is not only incredibly skilful, but somebody I am proud to call my friend. I am also excited for people to see the beautiful stage design that Sean Crowley has created. All this is backed up by the terrific team who work at the Torch Theatre.
I am ever mindful of what an immense privilege it is to write for the stage. I hope you enjoy the show.
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven
February 20 – March 1, 2018
Peter Doran on directing The Wood:
THE WOOD – TOUR DATES SPRING 2018
TORCH THEATRE, MILFORD HAVEN
Tuesday 20 February – Thursday 1 March, 7.30pm | Wednesday 28 February, 2.30pm (Matinee)
01646 695267 | torchtheatre.co.uk
ROYAL WELSH COLLEGE OF MUSIC & DRAMA, CARDIFF
Friday 2 March, 7.45pm
02920 391 391 | rwcmd.ac.uk
Tuesday 6 March, 7.30pm
08452 263 510 | theatrausirgar.co.uk
THE WELFARE, YSTRADGYNLAIS
Wednesday 7 March, 7.30pm
01639 843 163 | thewelfare.co.uk
THEATR BRYCHEINIOG, BRECON
Thursday 8 March, 7.30pm
01874 611 622 | brycheiniog.co.uk
THE HAFREN, NEWTOWN
Saturday 10 March, 7.30pm
01686 614 555 | thehafren.co.uk
THEATR MWLDAN, CARDIGAN
Tuesday 13 March, 7.30pm
01239 621 200 | mwldan.co.uk
THE RIVERFRONT, NEWPORT
Wednesday 14 March, 7.30pm
01633 656 757 | newportlive.co.uk/riverfront
PONTARDAWE ARTS CENTRE, PONTARDAWE
Thursday 15 March, 7.30pm
01792 863 722 | pontardaweartscentre.com
NEWBRIDGE MEMO, NEWBRIDGE
Friday 16 March, 7.30pm
01495 243 252 | newbridgememo.co.uk
BOROUGH THEATRE, ABERGAVENNY
Tuesday 20 March, 7.30pm
01873 850 805 | boroughtheatreabergavenny.co.uk
NEUADD DWYFOR, PWLLHELI
Thursday 22 March, 7.30pm
01758 704 088
ABERYSTWYTH ARTS CENTRE, ABERYSTWYTH
Friday 23 March, 7.30pm
01970 623 232 | aberystwythartscentre.co.uk
THEATR CLWYD, MOLD
Saturday 24 March, 7.45pm
01352 701 521 | theatrclwyd.com