The tiny venue was packed so tight for the opening performance of Burton no one in the audience dared breathe. The incarnation of Richard Burton stood before us, dressed in typical 1970s casual yet stylish (for the era) attire and clutching a glass of whisky and soda. Actor Rhodri Miles’ Burton at once enchanted the audience with his stories, beginning with his childhood and charting his acting career alongside many of the 20th century’s greatest. They don’t make them like that anymore.
As he spoke, twenty years dropped from his face and he let go of Burton’s craggy brow and set jaw. I’d love to see what he does with his other Fringe show about Dylan Thomas.
But this one man show is more than just a ramble through someone’s very public life. It delves into the emotions that drove the great man to pursue his passions - acting, drinking, and women. Gwynne Edwards’ creditable writing allows Miles to play with a poetic monologue smattered with enough humour for the audience to truly warm to the character. Perhaps as an ironic joke, Burton complains about the lack of good script writing most eloquently.
I lost count of the number of times Burton sauntered to the drinks trolley to refill his glass, but this expressed how big a part alcohol played in his life--it caused both the early demise of his good friend Dylan Thomas and was a contributing factor for the break-up of his marriage to Liz Taylor. These tragedies, along with the break-up of his first marriage and his brother’s accident, are retold with poignant pragmatism. Burton pauses over his whisky and works his jaw as if lost in the memory, brilliantly conveying intimate moments.
Puzzlingly, Miles pronounces ‘ty’ as ‘tie’ instead of ‘tee’ when talking about ty bach (little house in Welsh). Maybe it’s different where he comes from. And where was the ever-present cigarette? But, these are small and pedantic niggles; Miles’s portrayal of Burton is a textbook example of a character study - intense, intimate, and deeply humane. After the applause finally died down, Miles the actor thanked us in his own soft Welsh accent. As he spoke, twenty years dropped from his face and he let go of Burton’s craggy brow and set jaw. I’d love to see what he does with his other Fringe show about Dylan Thomas. This young actor from Wales is already well on his way to greatness.
P.S. Catch him on Game of Thrones soon. Miles that is, not Burton.