“He was an alcoholic womaniser but he gets sympathy” – from those who remember him that is.
I am discussing the Hollywood star Richard Burton with Rhodri Miles, who is bringing the tour of his one man show about the actor’s life to The Old Town Hall in Hemel Hempstead next week.
First performed in Edinburgh in 2009, Rhodri explains the surprisingly mixed reaction of the audience: “I made sure I was the first show of the day in Edinburgh to try and attract older people who like to reminisce about those times. We see him as this sort of romantic figure.
“Most young people who come to see it don’t know anything about him and when they see it they think he was awful, they can’t believe it.”
I wondered how Rhodri felt about him, was he a fan?
“I think everybody where I’m from loved Richard Burton. I was born in Pontarddulais, about six miles away from where he was born. 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. I’ve always wanted to play him.”
The production of Burton, written by Gwynne Edwards and directed by Gareth Armstrong, 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.
“He was one of 13 children, his father was a coal miner and his mother was a barmaid. His mother died when he was two and his father was an alcoholic. He went to live with an actor called Philip Burton, that’s why he changed his name from Richard Jenkins.
“Philip drilled him in Shakespeare and then he started getting roles. It’s a whirlwind ride up to that point in his life.”
I wanted to know more about the actor behind the man and much to my surprise, Rhodri’s professional career began in the police force in North London.
“I was a policeman. I lived in Hendon when I was 17 for a year and I joined the police force, training in Colindale for 20 weeks. I didn’t like it. I didn’t last very long. I remember a pub called the White Bear and it had a massive white bear in the pub.”
He then went on to pursue acting and landed a role in the Welsh language soap, which in English is called People of the Valley but it didn’t quite hit the theatrical spot for him.
“I wanted to learn about Shakespeare and be trained as an actor.”
Since then he was worked in several plays and featured in Holby City, Torchwood, Atlantis and Game of Thrones.
The Old Town Hall, High Street, Hemel Hempstead, HP1 3AE, Wednesday, March 1, 8pm. Details: 01442 228090