By PETER CALDER
At the height of the scandal which attended on Richard Burton's adulterous liaison with Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of Cleopatra in 1963, Laurence Olivier cabled him. "Make up your mind, dear heart; do you want to be a great actor or a household word?"
Burton's one-word reply ("Both") might be thought of as illuminating, yet it only serves to deepen the mystery of a man who, we can't help feeling, never realised his potential as either actor or celebrity and treated both roles with barely disguised contempt.
This one-man show, performed by Ray Henwood and directed by Burton's great-nephew Guy Masterson, helps dispel that mystery, getting under the skin of the almost-great actor and showing us, at least in snatches, his human heart.
It's a work as much of fancy as of biography; as the title implies, Henwood is playing a part but the text shows that the man born Richard Jenkins in South Wales saw Richard Burton as a lifelong role as well.
On a simple set (table, chair, telephone and the large bottle of vodka which is virtually another actor), Henwood makes some real stage magic, teasing out of a dense text a fully rounded portrait of the man behind the legend.
Avoiding the obvious (thundering, orotund enunciation, for example), he works well with a script dense in quotes from other work including the actor's favourite, Marlowe's Faustus, and King Lear, the role conspicuously absent from Burton's list of credits.
At times the revelations are a little heavy-handed: extraordinarily close to his sister, the legendary womaniser tells us he was "searching for her all my life". But there are fabulous one-liners - an early career in haberdashery is "a cul-de-sac of long johns" and Oxford is described as "a foreign country, full of fellows."
Henwood, a Wellington theatre veteran best-known north of the Bombays from television's Gliding On, relishes the comic lines best and his timing is impeccable. That the piece was never as moving as it was amusing is probably down to the text. The performer enchants and it's never less than an excellent entertainment.
By PETER CALDER