Who’s Afraid of Rachel Roberts
Torch Theatre Company

SHE was a Bafta winning and Oscar nominated actress who should have remained the darling of Hollywood, but Welsh minister’s daughter Rachel Roberts instead spiralled into a booze and drug fuelled existence that ultimately led to her death.

This one-woman play, directed by Torch artistic director Peter Doran, is an intimate portrait of the outrageous life of a fading star whose destructive marriage to Rex Harrison and alcohol and drug dependency snuffed out her talent.

Playwright and performer Helen Griffin is mesmerizing as Roberts, captivating the audience as the drunken woman who leaps through key moments in her life to her fall from grace. From the girl in Wales who made it to RADA, to her development into an accomplished actress living the dream among the glamour set, it all leads to a dark, depressing slide into addiction and notoriety.

Insecure and emotionally troubled, Roberts is a woman whose chaotic, attention grabbing and overtly sexual behaviour turns her from darling to an embarrassment.

Griffin’s portrayal brings to life a woman who at times you can’t help but imagine you’d have liked to be great friends with, until her vulgarity takes over.

She has strength yet vulnerability, and a likeability and intelligence which sucks you in before you are repelled by the crude language and behaviour on display.

It’s a role not everyone would be able to pull off and Griffin, a Welsh-Bafta winning actress herself, wonderfully cuts from one emotional state to another, bringing out the humour, manic episodes, pathos and human side of a woman mourning what could have been.

The set itself is deceptively simple, a sofa takes centre stage, a white wall behind is inset with cupboards enabling some clever use of props. The lighting design adds character and helps the action move on.

The script by Griffin and Dave Ainsworth is clever and engaging, and keeps you on your toes, wondering where it is going to go next. The raw material is fascinating and while this is a fictional piece, the language and events are based in fact.

In these times of celebrity obsession it’s easy to draws parallels and it’s a play that even if you don’t know or remember Rachel Roberts, is a hugely entertaining and touching account of the life of a fascinating Welsh woman.

  • Who’s Afraid of Rachel Roberts is at the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven until Saturday, April 28th.

    It then tours with dates including Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea, on May 4th and Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan, on May 9th.