It’s not for me to disagree that Welsh rugby legend Ray Gravell was ‘a man with a life packed with stories that deserve to be heard’. But make of it what you will that – after an intense hour or so with Gareth Bale’s one-man show – I overheard audience members expressing ‘how amazing it is that he remembered all his lines’, and relief at the chance to emerge into the open air.
Suspension of disbelief is demanded at first sight of Bale; his is not the physique of the famous rugby-union centre he plays or, frankly, any rugby international. But this is theatre – one hopes his performance will overcome this handicap. The imagination is also hindered by his ordinary trousers and short-sleeved checked shirt, an attire more reminiscent of a photocopier engineer.
It’s an awkward start: Bale as Grav wakes from a nap, grunts, and acts as though he doesn’t know where he is. Life is made up of memories and moments of greatness, he says, heading for a trunk which looms large on this small stage – only to remove and hold to his breast each of a scarf, a rugby ball, and a brand new never-been-worn Gola rugby boot. These items lead him to address his evidently late mother, to tell her all the stories he never told her, spanning both his childhood and his more illustrious career.
This device, of talking to his mother, works against Bale – who for a whole hour and more looks out into the distance, the ether where his mother is apparently located, throughout his entire monologue never once engaging with any audience member.
No doubt his mother would have listened with pride to anecdotes of Grav’s greatness on the pitch. No doubt his comrades from Llanelli RFC, or the British and Irish Lions who toured with Raymond William Robert Gravell, would have enjoyed reminiscing over a few beers. But they aren’t here, and neither is Gravell. Whilst Bale shows passion for his performance, he is unconvincing in his role, and at times unfortunately resembles a preacher.
The sparse changing-room set we are faced with does not inspire, and anyway has no particular bearing until, weirdly, five or ten minutes before the end, Bale undresses to demure white Y-fronts and dons a brand new kit like it’s a Christmas present. Awkward.
The play went down well in Wales, we’re told, and I can see that for a nation of committed Gravell aficionados a show dedicated to his memory would be enough. But for a wider audience, a one-person play depends on credible communication of universally-understood themes. And that just didn’t happen here.