Richard Burton

I just thought I’d mention his name. Last week would have been his 86th birthday.

Most of us have read, heard or seen ‘Hamlet’ in one form or another. Some of us have read ‘Under Milk Wood’. Reflecting on Burton’s career, the films I have seen and the recordings I have heard (never, sadly, experienced a live performance), I realised how much he had brought to life those particular works for me.

In my schooldays, we studied Shakespeare in text, but we did once get taken to see Richard III in the Swansea Grand Theatre.

In understanding and appreciating such works, would students progress more rapidly, even deeply, if they were exposed first to a powerfully spoken/acted version of the work, before they read the text? I’m convinced I would have.

Why pick on Burton? Well, as I said, it was the anniversary of his birthday last week, and he was born in Port Talbot, 20 miles from where I grew up. I have a CD of him in Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ – produced by the BBC who used his voice from an early recording, but intercut it with a newer cast. I’m looking forward to listening to it again this evening, with some wine (to aid deeper understanding, of course). Dylan Thomas was a master of ‘cyflythrennu’ – that’s Welsh for alliteration – and to hear it roll off Burton’s tongue is exquisite.

For reading my own work, strangely, it would not be Richard Burton, but Sir Alec Guinness. With deep plots, a too powerful voice would take the listener away from the details of the plot. Guiness would be more cerebral in delivery (the actor, not the drink)!