Dewi Rhys Williams as Richard Burton and Vivien Reid as Elizabeth Taylor
The Taylor Burton Affair, written by Steven Elliot and directed by Chelsey Gillard, takes us straight into the deep end of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s turbulent marriage. This real life love affair is perhaps the most famous in all of Hollywood’s history, if only for the sheer levels of hostility that it engendered. But then again, severe alcoholism and excessive self-pride are rather toxic elements to add to any romantic relationship, and this play pulls no punches in its portrayal of those character defects which ultimately pulled the couple apart.
Vivien Reid as Elizabeth Taylor
The performance kicks off by placing us immediately at the heart of an embittered argument between Taylor (played by Vivien Reid) and Burton (played by Dewi Rhys Evans), and this single scene encompasses the entirety of the play. The set is particularly fitting; to the far-left stands a portable drinks cabinet, while on the far-right sits a romantic chaise longue, and throughout the play Taylor and Burton are constantly moving between the two, which perhaps serves as a telling metaphor for their marriage. Despite the play’s simplicity, the context of Taylor and Burton’s relationship is revealed to us in a remarkably thorough way, and these details never seem forced; they arise organically through the medium of argument and occasional reconciliation.
The actors’ performances were fantastic; they both managed to take us through a whirlwind of emotion and feeling whilst simultaneously keeping the play grounded. The majority of their interaction is uncomfortable viewing as it invites us to take pity on a relationship that is quite literally tearing at the seams. Yet there are certain lines of dialogue that are genuinely humorous, which remind us that there is, after all, an ineffable connection between the two characters, even if it is buried beneath a thick layer of hostility.
Overall The Taylor Burton Affair is a thoroughly character-driven play; it is a warts-and-all portrayal of marriage and human character, and it will therefore appeal to those who aren’t necessarily fans of Elizabeth Taylor or Richard Burton.
The production runs at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff until Saturday.