A REMARKABLE one-man show has opened at The Torch Theatre, exploring the life and times of one of Wales’ most loved sons, Ray Gravell.

Written by Owen Thomas, Grav has been created with the blessing of Mari, Ray’s widow, and contributions from his Welsh and British Lions team mates.

Directed by the Torch’s artistic director Peter Doran, the play explores the life of a man who was as compelling away from the rugby field as he was on it, a man who embodied what it is to be Welsh.

“It’s a story waiting to be told,” explained Peter, “we have a plethora of rugby legends in Wales but Grav was so much more, how tragedy as a young teenager dictated and shaped the rest of his life – a fascinating story, a fascinating man!”

Ray Gravell grew up in Mynydd-y-Garreg and as a boy wanted nothing more than to please his father and play rugby for Wales. As we learn the two didn’t go hand in hand, with Ray suffering one of his greatest losses on the day he was selected to play for Wales Under-15s.

He went on to play for and captain his beloved Llanelli, and was in the infamous Scarlets side that beat the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand in 1972, an occasion fondly remembered as the day the pubs ran dry!

International duties would soon come calling, with Ray realising his dream of playing for Wales against France in 1975. Grav was selected to play for the British and Irish Lions on the 1980 tour of South Africa, and also lined up with the Barbarians in the same year.

Often epitomising the hard edge of rugby, Grav was the classic crash ball centre, thriving on the physical contact of the sport. He is often cited as the source for the much repeated rugby phrase, “get your first tackle in early, even if it's late".

After hanging up his boots, Grav enjoyed an equally successful broadcasting, television and film career, starring alongside the legendary actor Peter O’Toole in Rebecca's Daughters. The pair would go on to become firm friends, with a mutual admiration for each other’s achievements.

Grav’s greatest success was not on the pitch or behind the cameras. He was first and foremost a loving son, a devoted husband and a doting father to his two girls Gwenan and Manon.

It seemed somewhat cruel that a man who was defined by his love for Wales and Mynydd-y-Garreg would take his last breath on foreign soil. He died on holiday in Spain in 2007 after succumbing to complications from diabetes, a disease to which he had already lost his leg. He was 56 years old.

His funeral was one of the biggest Llanelli had ever seen, with 10,000 people turning out to pay tribute to a unique life at his rugby home, Stradey Park.

Seven years on, the time has come to tell the story of the man, and who better to play the part than Welsh actor Gareth Bale (The Indian Doctor, High Hopes, Pobol Y Cwm, Richard Parker, Bedroom Farce, Boeing Boeing, Neville’s Island, Up ‘n Under, Bouncers), who not only bears a startling physical resemblance to Grav, but has his accent and mannerisms down to a tee.

We see him first in an abandoned rugby changing room, repeating the words 'Llanelli, Wales, British Lion, Barbarian' as he seeks to reassure himself of his surroundings. A fitting start as, for much of Grav’s life, he sought assurance about his ability in the fields in which he excelled, often unable to understand the esteem in which he was held by his peers.

Bale effortlessly transports the audience from the present to the past; recounting the day he rushed home to tell his father he had made the Welsh Under-15s side, only to find his hero had taken his own life on the mountain. During his search, he said: “All I ever wanted was to please my father, now all I wanted to do was to find my father.”

Memories on the pitch also came flooding back, most memorably the famous victory over the All Blacks, and the time he lined up against his Welsh team mate Gareth Edwards, who dented his fragile ego seconds before kick-off by calling him fat!

Grav also recollects the room mate wars between himself and Delme Thomas, with Grav’s superstitions ensuring neither enjoyed a good night sleep before the big game; and the letter his mum sent to him ahead of his international debut, signed from her and Tiddles the cat.

Whether you are a rugby fan or not, only the hardest of hearts would fail to enjoy this production. Bale is outstanding in the role, with the audience jumping to their feet to provide a well-deserved standing ovation. On this occasion, the audience included two of Grav’s team mates; county councillor Peter Morgan who played on the same British Lions Tour with Grav in 1980, and Western Telegraph sports editor Gordon Thomas, who played with Grav for Llanelli.

After the play, The Torch Theatre Company collected donations for the Ray Gravell & Friends Charitable Trust. Established in his memory, it aims is to ensure that the passion, energy and spirit of the great man continues through the work it does – protecting his love of and commitment to family life, sport, music, the arts, the outdoors, media and the Welsh language.

Grav runs at The Torch Theatre from February 4-14 and tickets are available from The Torch website www.torchtheatre.co.uk or from the box office on 01646 695267. The show will then go on a 19 date tour of Wales – full details are available on The Torch website and the dedicated Grav website www.gravcymru.co.uk