A two-character play is always an exercise in basic chemistry.Two elements, with the script as catalyst. Without the camouflage of supporting roles and set pieces, the experiment is laid bare, and the only question is whether the chemistry works, and the reaction happens. Tonight, unfortunately, despite a few incendiary moments and an excellent performance from Lydia Poole as Elizabeth Taylor, The Liz and Dick Show remains curiously inert.
Which is odd, because it seems like a recipe for a riot. Dhanil Ali’s three-act script captures Taylor and Burton in the latter part of their film careers, opening on the set of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Their verbal weapons are already well honed from previous battles, and Ali strips everything back to make space for what amounts to a theatrical boxing match, letting Burton and Taylor bounce each other around the ring, exchanging blows, knocking one another down, and occasionally holding on to each other when the fight becomes too intense.
So, two enormous characters trading in poison barbs and sweet nothings for a little over an hour – for a writer, it’s a licence to write zingers; for the actors, an opportunity to get some bits of scenery stuck in their teeth. But despite the promising set-up, it never quite flies. The writing is taut and efficient, but the one liners are a little flat and the repartee never reaches the heights it aspires to. McConnell’s performance as Burton is more impression that evocation. His demeanor is appropriately raffish and his vowels impeccably sonorous, but he doesn’t fully capture Burton’s strange charisma. Lydia Poole as as Taylor is wonderful though, at once fragile and fierce, and lending depth and complexity to the character. But it’s not enough to carry the production, and ultimately it feels like something of a missed opportunity.