Burton at St James
Furnished with a stool, drinks trolley and a pew from the bar, a sparse stage lays the foundation for the emotionally fluctuating journey of Richard Burton’s life. St James Theatre gives a home to the one-man show written by Gwynne Edwards as part of the theatre’s Icons Season, performed by Rhodri Miles.
Any non-native who can execute a Welsh accent without sounding Pakistani has already accomplished a feat onstage. Alas Miles was not awarded this achievement, not through lack of dialect, as prior to research it was very impressive. The Welsh-born actor does however notably implement the tonality and mellifluous quality renowned to Burton.
Clad in a tight-fitting black polo neck shirt, a depleted silhouette of the once great star retells the story of his life. Through anecdotal references and circa 25 glasses of vodka, we are guided through his relationships with women, acting and alcohol.
A pot-bellied Burton has the audience engrossed for the full 75 minutes. With simple staging and only two lighting cues – spotlight to begin and full bled for the duration – Miles’ performance holds the attention as tenaciously as he holds his glass. Polishing off a decanter of booze, his drunken demise spans the performance in reflection of his own life.
Director Gareth Armstrong weaves a plethora of mental states; Burton travels through confidence, hilarity, anxiety and remorse. Oscillating from discernible strength and witty quips to a fidgeting ruin, stable only by a drinks trolley, the audience laughs with him one moment and winces the next. “I seem to want monogamy, with the affairs thrown in”: Burton accounts his early approach to women as concisely as this statement, later paralleling his tempestuous relationship with Elizabeth Taylor and their characters in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Educational and engaging, we are taken chronologically from the conception of his career to its expiration. Narrating a whole life unaccompanied, however, has its consequence: the production lacks action or drama. With an existence full of it, this seems a little unsatisfying.
Playing for only one more day, Burton is definitely worth taking yourself down to Icons Season at St James Theatre and joining him in raising a glass (or ten).
Burton is on at St James Theatre until 15th January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.