Brief Lives – September 2008


By John Aubrey, adapted and directed by Patrick Garland

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 22nd September 2008

Roy Dotrice’s John Aubrey is a delightful old codger, busily complaining about how the country has gone to the dogs, and telling us it wasn’t like that in Queen Elizabeth’s day. As he wasn’t even born in Queen Elizabeth’s day, this was funnier than it might seem. He had a sweet old man laugh – a ‘he-he-he’ – that was funny and endearing.

Set in Aubrey’s lodgings in London during the 1690s, the old man takes us on a general ramble through events throughout his life, including the Civil War and his early days and education. There are stories of folk remedies and strange cures by doctors, and a delicacy of vocabulary when referring to “ravishing”. Sex is fine, apparently, but “ravishing” is not to be taken lightly. There’s a lot of humour in his clumsiness – throwing his warm milk over his shoulder as he tells a story, for example – and in the general squalor and unsanitary conditions of the time. Was that a rat he fished out of his chamber pot, drowned? Actually, no, it was the end of his belt, but it could well have been a rat in that place.

In the second half he told us some stories of real people, some better known than others, and mixing well known history with juicy bits of gossip. Throughout the play there were noises from the street and the flat above, which fed into the stories or at least into his grumbling. It was enjoyable, but seemed a bit dated, although I don’t mind seeing a more gentle form of entertainment such as this from time to time.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

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