Pros: Entertainingly exposes the folly of 1960s Hollywood and the absurd lives of its stars.
Cons: Lacks dramatic tension.
It’s the early seventies and a louche, slightly flabby Richard Burton is taking us through the story of his life to date. In between frequent visits to the drinks trolley, he discusses his early life in the Welsh valleys, his role models, marriages, lovers, fellow actors and attitudes to his art. Burton, currently playing at the St. James Studio section of the theatre, is a one-man show starring Rhodri Miles. Wearing slacks, roll-neck, cardigan and medallion, Miles certainly bears a physical resemblance to Burton, and with his deep Welsh lilt, could probably pass for him on the phone as well.
The staging is ultra-simple; just the drinks trolley and a couple of chairs. There is no obvious use of lighting changes, music or sound. And the script is equally straightforward, telling the story in a completely linear fashion, albeit with some entertaining anecdotes along the way. This approach would be fine if we didn’t already know the story of Burton (and Taylor). But we of course we do and sadly there are no tricks in this script that might create suspense. Nor does it put any particular filter on the man’s life and motives or offer any new insight. The whole thing is played very straight, and consequently lacks drama.
The other problem with this show is that maudlin, middle-aged drunks don’t always make for great company, however juicy their stories. There is a monotony in heavy drinking which is reflected here in the endless to-ing and fro-ing to the decanter. To Miles’ credit he does convey the sense that Burton’s humour is underlain with regret and self-loathing, but the character could have benefited with touch more charisma to hint at the movie star behind the drink.
I bow to no one in my love of the St James Theatre and I can’t think of many better ways to spend a wintry Sunday evening than holed up in the cosy studio theatre, with a glass of wine and a good storyteller. Although Burton was perhaps too slight, it did make for a pleasant and interesting accompaniment to our evening drink.
Author: Gwynne Edwards
Director: Gareth Armstrong
Booking Until: 15 January 2015
Box office: 0844 264 2140
Booking link: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/book-tickets/?event=23352