#Ad Gifted Tickets
On Wednesday night we attended the VIP/Press Night of the Torch Theatre Company’s production of Carwyn. It was one of those wet, wild and windy nights that make you loath to leave the house, but we knew it would be worth it for an evening out at “The Torch”. On arrival, as usual, there was a warm welcome. We grabbed a glass of wine and made our way around the current exhibition, which is aptly about Carwyn’s impressive rugby career. This made a great appetiser to the show. Read on to find out about the exhibition and our thoughts on the one man show, Carwyn.
Carwyn – the play
From the moment we entered the studio theatre, the atmosphere was set. Voile curtains were drawn around a hotel room. Upon the bed was Carwyn, played by Simon Nehan, and playing on the “radio” were classic Welsh rugby songs, such as Bread of Heaven and Sosban Fach, which always rouse emotion.
The play began and at first it felt deliberately uncomfortable, and slightly voyeuristic, to spy on Nehan, through the voiles, recreating the last movements of Carwyn James before he died alone in a hotel room in Amsterdam. Writer, Owen Thomas, successfully utilises the small everyday moments, to help us create the bigger picture of Carwyn, within the short time of the play. We see this genius of a man, a hero in the world of rugby and a scholar in many fields, struggle with the simple instructions of the hotel Teasmaid.
At first the audience, are so quiet, you could hear a pin drop, but as Carwyn speaks to himself in English and incidental Welsh, “Iawn…”, the laughs (and tears later on…) begin and we relax and enjoy the story.
Pulling Back the Curtain on Carwyn’s Life
Soon, the curtain was opened and we were invited into the heart of the story and into the soul of Carwyn James, that he had tragically had to bury hidden inside during his living years. Writer, Owen Thomas’s lyrical words draw us right into Carwyn’s early life, his upbringing in Cyfneithin, Llanelli where he was “Doomed to play rugby.”
He faced the realities and worries of growing up in a mining town:
“Cyfneithin, that long stretch of houses and shops wending their way down to the mine … We could hear the ambulance from the rough and tumble rugby field. Excitable voices and childish games all falling quarry pool quiet. Every child, holding their breath and praying, “Our Father…” that it wasn’t to be our Father.”
Also overlooking a rugby field from my home, the description “Hedgerows, barely able to contain a chaos of men in their everyday Saturday battle.” resonated with me. This play brought back memories of growing up with rugby being a part of life, watching my dad play every weekend, the smell of liniment oil, TCP and the pints of beer in the club after (of which, I’d be allowed the froth!).
But even in the home and country that he loved, Carwyn James was never comfortable in his own skin (both figuratively and literally as he also had psoriasis, which he scratched until he bled).
“But even in the fog of winter’s gone, we were always different, you and I.”
Carwyn’s Rugby Career
Carwyn James died in 1983, when I was just three years old, so sadly I can’t say, “I was there!” about the highlights of his career- winning two Welsh international caps and enjoying incredible coaching success during the 1971 British and Lion’s Tour of New Zealand. He went on to also bring Llanelli to victory in 1972 against the All Blacks and did the same in 1973 with the Barbarian team. He was a genius coach and it’s even said he changed the way the game was played. He’s often called the “Greatest Welsh Coach to never coach Wales.”
For rugby fans who remember these fantastic matches, you’re in for an incredible treat as highlights from the TV footage are intermeshed within the play. It was great to hear stories from that time about the much loved rugby players today too. My mum was especially excited when her favourite player, J.P.R. Williams was mentioned. My late dad, a rugby fan and rugby player, would have really loved to have seen this play. It is on one hand a celebration of rugby, but equally if you’re not a fan of the sport, you’ll still enjoy this play as it’s most importantly about Carwyn, the person.
Somehow, Carwyn also found the time, in his all too short life, to be an English Teacher, College Lecturer, possible spy (during his time in the Navy), Plaid Cymru candidate, activist and broadcaster.
Carwyn’s Heartbreaking Loneliness
Thanks to Gareth John Bale’s careful direction, Carwyn, the play, very sensitively portrays Carwyn’s struggles with his sexuality. At the end of each day, he sadly led a very lonely life.
“There is a great loneliness upon me.”
I flinched in my seat as Nehan called out the slurs and insults that Carwyn had been called by the crowds. I cried as he said he took it all and let the words wash over him. It’s heartbreaking thinking of him later that night all alone holding that pain. He’s portrayed as the quiet man that he was in real life – a quiet man that made the Lions roar. However, in this theatre version, Carwyn is given a chance to say what he might have wanted to say. The stage darkens and Simon Nehan’s voice is raised. He gives an angry and powerful speech, during which Carwyn realises that he shouldn’t have listened to what they said, he should have lived his life as he wanted to, as he would have been able to, perhaps, if he’d lived today. This speech was worthy of a mid-play applause and with hindsight I regret that I wasn’t brave enough to start one!
Simon Nehan as Carwyn
Neehan studied footage of Carwyn, to bring him to life and he achieves this and brings Carwyn authentically to the stage. It’s a sublime performance that kept us enthralled throughout, carried us inside Carwyn’s deepest emotions and and brought us to tears.
Carwyn Set, Lighting & Projection
The wonderful 80’s hotel room, complete with (a now) retro tele and Teasmaid was designed perfectly by Tegan Reg James. I loved the clever ways the props were hidden in plain sight within the set. Lighting and Projection Designer, Ceri James, has employed a number of techniques to enhance this monologue. The lighting sets the mood and the projection of news footage reporting Carwyn’s death and the famous rugby game footage is projected in a number of different ways- on the portable TV, the curtains and even on a newspaper.
Carwyn- the End
When watching a play based on real life, there are rarely surprise endings. However, I think most of us in the audience were surprised at just how emotional we felt by the end of the show. I heard sniffles and sobs and people taking tissues out of their bags. The well deserved standing ovation was also slightly delayed as we needed a moment to compose ourselves to be able to give Simon Nehan, and everyone involved in this project, the applause it truly deserved.
“You shouldn’t fear death, you should only fear not living a true life.”
But for Carwyn, this realisation heartbreakingly came too late (indeed if it ever came at all…).
I’m so glad that I went to see Carwyn, it’s a a remarkable and important story that deserves to be told.
Watch Carwyn at the Torch Theatre
Carwyn will run at various times until Saturday 26th February in the theatre’s Studio Theatre. There is a socially distanced performance on Monday 21st February and a BSL interpreted performance on Tuesday 22nd February. The performance is suitable for those aged 12 and above. Tickets cost £15, £13 Concessions and £8.50 for those aged 26 and under. Bookings can be made through the Torch Theatre’s Box Office on 01646 695267 or by visiting www.torchtheatre.co.uk
Watch Carwyn at your local theatre
- 1 March: Riverfront, Newport
- 2 March: Pontardawe Arts Center
- 3-4 March: Aberystwyth Arts Center
- 5 March: Brycheiniog Theatre, Brecon
- 7 March: Mwldan Theatre, Cardigan
- 8-9 March: Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
- 10 March: Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
- 12 March: Galeri, Caernarfon
Carwyn Exhibition in the Joanna Field Gallery
Alongside this production, the Torch Theatre also have an exciting exhibition in the Oriel Joanna Field, with photos, memorabilia, and some very special items from the rugby side of Carwyn James’s career.