Acclaimed one-man play about the life and loves of Richard Burton comes to Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
From a Welsh village to Hollywood stardom the eventful life and loves of Richard Burton are brought to the stage in an acclaimed one-man play, with a former policeman in the title role.
When it comes to Welsh actors Richard Burton casts a very large shadow. You would think it would take a very brave Welshman then to step into the shoes of the legend.
Step forward policeman turned actor Rhodri Miles who has not just taken on a role made famous by his countryman but plays the man himself in hugely acclaimed one-man play Burton, which comes to Norfolk for a string of dates of the next fortnight.
That voice, the rise from humble beginnings to Hollywood mega-stardom, the women and the drinking, the play vividly depicts the actor's often hilarious, melancholic, self-deprecating take on life, culminating in his acrimonious first divorce to Elizabeth Taylor.
'I've always wanted to play Richard Burton' said Rhodri, who was born in Pontarddulais, just six miles away from Burton's birthplace.
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'He was a great thespian actor, an alcoholic womaniser who often said that his natural disposition to the Celtic gloom was caused by the mist in the hills and the black in the coal, all of it seeping into his very being. When you think of Welsh iconic figures, he's one of them.'
Upon leaving the Metropolitan Police, Rhodri trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and has been a professional actor for 15 years. He has starred in Welsh dramas High Hopes, Torchwood, Pobol Y Cwm, as well as appearing in Game of Thrones.
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His stage credits include The Welsh captain in Richard II and as Lodovico in Othello at the Sheffield Crucible directed by Daniel Evans, opposite Dominic West's Iago. Since then, of course, West has himself gone on to portray Richard Burton opposite Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth Taylor in a high profile BBC drama about the volatile celebrity couple.
West is from Sheffield though. The pressure to done the late acting icon justice is surely much greater for a Welsh actor. Rhodri got a taste when he played another Welsh icon Dylan Thomas in Clown in the Moon to critical acclaim at the Edinburgh fringe in 2007.
That play was also written by Gwynne Edwards who then penned Burton. Cast in the dream role Rhodri went on to debut the role in Edinburgh in 2009 before winning the Best International Artist award at the inaugural Hollywood Fringe Festival for his portrayal in 2010.
The play, directed by Gareth Armstrong, has since toured widely to acclaim. It is set in Switzerland on the 46th birthday of the notorious Shakespearean actor, when he is still married to Elizabeth Taylor but won't be for much longer.
The break-up of the couple — perhaps the original modern celebrity couple — happened not long after they both appeared together in the movie version of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood.
'In fact our play starts in the same manner as Under Milk Wood, using the words from Dylan Thomas' famous play for voices with Burton stating the famous line - 'To begin at the beginning….,' says Rhodri, pointing out its is a very good place to start.
Beautiful women, 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.
'He was an alcoholic womaniser but he gets sympathy,' says Rhodri.
His performance has the gravely voice, as well as the poise and the dry Welsh humour, but isn't just an intimation but has a hazy poignancy as he delivers memories and regrets while cradling a glass part-filled with crushed ice and booze.
• Burton is at Diss High School, on April 27, 7.30pm, £10, 01379 652241, disscornhall.co.uk and Sheringham Little Theatre, on April 28, 7.30pm, £10, 01263 822347, sheringhamlittletheatre.com
• It will also be at Norwich Playhouse on April 29, 7.30pm, £10 (£8 cons), 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk and The Sackhouse, Wells, on April 30, 7.30pm, £10 (£9 cons), £5 student, 01328 710193, granarytheatre.co.uk
Humble origins to Hollywood
Richard Burton was born on November 10, 1925, in the Welsh coal-mining town of Pontrhydfen. One of 13 children in the family of Thomas and Edith Jenkins, he was born Richard Jenkins. His father, a coal miner, wanted one of his sons to 'live in sunshine,' so he was sent to school rather than to the mines.
He changed his last name upon becoming a professional actor to honour Philip Burton, his school drama teacher and mentor, who became his guardian.
He spoke no English until the age of 10. His mentor taught him to speak English without a Welsh accent, to read the classics.
In 1949 Burton played at London's Globe Theatre in The Lady's Not For Burning taking the production to Broadway the following year. He then went to Hollywood in 1952 and starred in My Cousin Rachel opposite Olivia de Havilland. He received an Oscar nomination.