Review: Burton’s Last Call

Moyan Brenn, Edinburgh Festival / CC
Photograph: Moyan Brenn / CC

Genre: Solo Show

Venue: Laughing Horse, Espionage

Low Down
“An informal audience with legendary Richard Burton as he chats about his famous friends, career, turbulent love life and his rise from the humblest of beginnings to worldwide superstardom. All with his customary irrepressible twinkle, despite his constant demons – guilt at deserting his first wife and family, the pain of his brother’s death, his constant battle with alcohol, and his wildly passionate yet ultimately destructive relationship with Elizabeth Taylor.”

Review
Burton’s Last Call is an informal audience with the eponymous man himself. Sitting in his dressing room preparing to step out onto the Broadway stage, Richard Burton as played by George Telfer, is in typically gregarious and assured form before drink, and demons, worm their way through his nerves to reveal a very haunted soul.

A Free Festival show, the props are minimal consisting of a bottle of faux alcohol, whisky glass and a chair. Despite the clamour for stardom that occupied Burton, he suffered from notorious introspection throughout his life. From the moment the audience enter, this sparse and darkened basement feels an apt venue in which to explore these gloomier facets to his character.

The script, while refreshingly biased toward Burton’s interpretation of the people, events and incidents of his life, never falls into the trap of vindicating his mistakes or romanticising his guilt. Burton himself was too meditative on his own failures for that and it’s a testament to Telfer’s research that the hoary tale of booze and marriages is not embellished.

Excellent use is made of the space available and the close proximity to the audience feels like a charming conversation with an increasingly sozzled Burton. The presentation feels less like a performance and more like skilful ad-lib acting. The bursts of delight, the reminisces but also the melancholy, are all the more unpredictable and heart-wrenching as a result.

Although the purring voice of Burton could never be replicated, Telfer’s countenance combined with an eloquent script that has gone to pains to understand its subject, without being overly cerebral, makes this a highly enjoyable performance.

The culmination in the revelations about Burton’s guilt over his brother’s death, and his sincere regret that his pursuit of wealth may have cost him a coveted literary standing among his contemporaries, make the closing moments of this hour fittingly theatrical.

The Free Fringe should be able making an audience want to scream from the rooftops that they found a winner tucked away. From the attention and the audible delight of this audience, that would seem to be entirely true.

Alastair Stewart 276 Articles

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer, journalist, and teacher based in Edinburgh and Almería. He regularly writes about politics, history, and culture for magazines across Europe.


He was formerly a press officer at the Scottish Parliament. He graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in International Relations.


Alastair founded DARROW in 2013 to support new and emerging writing talent in Scotland around the world.

Be the first to comment

What do you think?