Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Burton, played by Rhodri Miles, vividly presents the life of the great Welsh actor in his own words from humble beginnings to Hollywood mega-stardom. Beautiful women (not least Liz Taylor), alcohol, wealth, stage and screen are the threads woven into this sad, happy, exuberant often hilarious one-man show. Drink was the only real anodyne to his deteriorating health and mental state, his doomed tempestuous relationship with Taylor and his constant guilt over the abandonment of his family.
The Baillie room at Assembly Hall is a compact intimate setting and once Rhodri Miles walks on stage as Richard Burton, pours himself a drink, adds a little soda and settles down to talk to us we could almost be in the drawing room of his house in Switzerland on his 45th birthday in 1970.
The drinks trolley – rather chillingly – is the only set there is and Burton returns to it regularly in the course of the next sixty minutes. The sense is one of an audience with the great actor rather than drama and he addresses us directly throughout.
He provides an hour of anecdotes and reminiscences – often witty and biting, that range from early childhood, through adolescence and the influence of his inspirational teacher, Phillip Burton, to a life on the stage and in films. And the women, of course, the countless women. We are treated to an insider view of the industry and revel in the tales he tells. There are few laugh out loud moments but constant chuckles from the audience – who might have laughed louder had they not feared missing a juicy titbit!
However, it is not all entertaining stories of famous 20th century actors; Gwynne Edwards finely crafted script also reveals something of the very troubled soul that Burton was – his alcoholism, the damage and pain that he knew he had caused to others. The two sides of this larger than life character weave through the stories and reflections leaving us with a sense of this very troubled but talented man.
Miles is not Burton, but the mannerisms and the voice are close enough to create the illusion. He paces his storytelling well giving an entirely natural performance that sounds like a chat, effortless, off the cuff rather than scripted.
As he talks he constantly returns to the trolley to refill his glass and gradually his delivery and manner subtly alter – this is a man who was rarely obviously drunk but was drunk much of the time and captures that without overplaying it.
Overall, it is a gentle delight of an hour, especially for those who had his picture inside their desk and watched every film he appeared in.