Burton, by Gwynne Edwards

Thursday, 12 August, 2010

The Voice from the Valleys

Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX

7pm, 4th – 7th August & 11th – 14th August 2010 (1.15)

The small dark basement with cushioned wooden seats for an audience of about 40 provides a perfectly intimate setting for this one man show.

Rhodri Miles as Burton

The set is simple. There is a table holding a crystal decanter full of clear liquid. There is an ice bucket and water-spritzer. The one-man bar is completed when Rhodri Miles as Burton enters the little room, with a crystal tumbler in hand.

The monologue takes place on the date of Burton’s 46th birthday at his house in Switzerland. He is in day three of a bout of depression. He is on medication for various medical issues and is defying his physicians every time he takes a sip from his glass. With this background of ‘Celtic gloom’ there is a lot of scope for dark humour, which certainly features in abundance throughout the performance.

Rhodri Miles wears black trousers and a black turtle neck over an open cream cardigan. A silver chain hanging over his sweater is the only hint at luxury in his attire. However the clothes and jewellery soon fade quietly into the background. The eye is drawn immediately to the furrowed brow and squinty-eyed expression of Rhodri Miles’ face, as his character fixes himself the first of many drinks and, illuminated by a soft spot light, begins casually chatting about his life, as though with an invisible guest.

Burton’s manner of speech is frank and open. The topics begin with his humble upbringing in working class Wales. He casually discusses his life since childhood, his advancement to the stage with the help of his mentor, Philip Burton, whose name he eventually took, his famous acquaintances, his marriages and his many public affairs. Burton makes no apologies for the many criticisms which have been loaded on him by the press (“I sleep with all my leading ladies…”). And yet he is honest about his regrets, and his self-loathing for having let down some of the most important people in his life, his brother, his friend Dylan Thomas, his first wife and daughter.

Gwynne Edwards’ script is multi-layered. Burton’s words are honest, and yet the audience is acutely aware of much which is unspoken also. Burton has a jaded air; he dismisses the 33 movies he has under his belt along with the entire movie industry. He is bored with Hamlet, which he describes as no more than a collection of quotations, reiterated ad nauseam for 400 years. He detests the press and their obsession with his life, conquests, and marriage. He is scathing of his present wife, Elizabeth Taylor, who is ill in another part of the same house from which he is entertaining his invisible guest. He addresses some of his flaws, including his alcoholism (he refers to the contents of his glass saying ‘it’s a waste of the best of us’). There is however an underlying sense of his conceited, self-centred nature. And a knowledge that fame cannot have simply fallen at his feet, as it did for many of the women he was associated with, or so he implies. Burton describes a lifetime of fatigue with the industry within which he built his career, however the possibility that this outlook has developed in his latter years is left open for consideration.

Rhodri Miles’ performance as Richard Burton comes naturally. Throughout the 75 minute performance he moves easily around the small stage. For large portions of time he sits pensively vocalising his reminiscences. He keeps his drinks topped up. His movements are barely perceptible as the eye remains fixed on his expressive face. In this manner one could be surprised to note that the contents of the decanter are running low, while at the same time Burton’s movements and speech are becoming looser. By the end of the show the decanter is empty and Burton is unashamedly drunk. Burton’s defiant self-assurance regains control over the regretful tone of some of his musings with his final roar: ‘to hell with the physicians, I may outlive them all’.

Cast:  Rhodri Miles – Richard Burton

Company credits:  Writer – Gwynne Edwards.  Director – Hugh Thomas. Technical operator – Tom McLeod

(c) Leanne O’Loughlin

Reviewed at the Leicester Square Theatre, 11th August 2010

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