"An old man in a lovingly recreated 17th century room is talking to us. He seizes our at first uneasy attention rather like some ancient mariner, so that he forces on us his stories, garrulous, often pointless and yet, in total, remarkably descriptive of human frailty. The stories are frequently almost feeble in their honesty, but the man can talk, and almost against inclination you find yourself listening.
Perhaps there are only two kinds of people in the world--those who look forward and those who look back. For the latter, Aubrey with good-natured although often scandalous stories provides a field day. For what happens oddly enough before our eyes is the recreation of a period. Suddenly, in our hands, to touch and feel, is the fabric of an age. It is a curious feeling -the kind of real sense of time passed you do not expect to encounter in a playhouse, but rather with the touch of an old binding in a bookshop or the reading of some half eroded family inscription on a lichened tombstone. At once 300 years are the bat of an eye lid and the past surrounds us like a still-fugitive mist.
This strange event was certainly Mr. Garland's idea, but it is Roy Dotrice's triumph. Mr. Dotrice, a former member of Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, is an actor of total intensity. He seems to be Aubrey, and we see giggle; the relaxed manner, the straggly hair, the old, rheumy eyes, the slightly palsied hand are no longer matters of acting but the dimensions and lineaments of a person.
Mr. Dotrice is so fine, and Mr. Aubrey so humane, that I found an evening in their company both entertaining and, as the shadows deepened, suggesting the long, frail night, sharply moving." ...from a review of the original production in the New York Times
Garland's play again opened in London in 1998 starring Michael Williams
In October 1999, another audio tape/ cd based on the book was released, read by Brian Cox with music by Gibbons, Early English Organ Music (Payne), and Purcell:
"Wlliam Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Hobbes - three of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived. They, and many others, are here remembered by another great Englishman, John Aubrey, whose Brief Lives are some of the wittiest and most moving miniature portraits ever written. Aubrey - a scholar, antiquarian and close observer of both the foibles and the courage of his contemporaries - lived through the upheavals of the English Civil War in the 17th century. His little biographies are amusing, ribald, moving; a testament to the brevity of human existence and one of the most precious relics of a distant age."
In 2008 Roy Dotrice revived
"Brief Lives" in a new tour.
A DVD of the 'lost' videotape from the original world tour became available in 2010.
In 1967, "Brief Lives," starring Emmy, BAFTA, and Tony Award winner Roy Dotrice opened at the Hampstead Theatre Club in London. On the second evening it was bought by David Susskind and opened at the John Golden Theater on West 45th Street, New York.
In 1968, it opened in London's West End
at the Criterion Theatre, where it played for 400 performances,
and then later at the Mayfair Theatre.
After a successful run in 1974 at New York's Booth Theatre on 45th Street, Mr. Dotrice took "Brief Lives" on world tour, breaking all records for the longest-running solo performance.
He became reigning champion for decades in the "Guinness Book of Records" with a total of 1,782 performances. The tour ended in Australia in 1979 when a performance was taped before a live theatre audience and broadcast on national television.
Introduction to Brief Lives in 1979 by Roy Dotrice
Roy Dotrice in 1967
About John Aubrey
by director Patrick Garland
A Brief Life of Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679
by John Aubrey
'Comparative Biographies' from the University of St Andrews, Scotland
The Digitized Aubrey
But a few of the numerous entries available from Google Book
(full searchable texts with free downloading):
"Brief Lives": Chiefly of Contemporaries, Set Down by John Aubrey
Project Gutenberg EBooks:
"The Natural History of Wiltshire" by John Aubrey
The Stonehenge Connection
"John Aubrey also wrote Miscellanies (1696), a collection of stories and folklore, the Natural History of Wiltshire (edited by John Britton, 1847), and a Perambulation of Surrey. His most important contribution to the study of British antiquities, the lengthy and discursive Monumenta Britannica, remains in manuscript. A scheme was afoot in 1692 to publish the manuscript, and a prospectus and a specimen page were issued in 1693, but nothing more came of the project. It contains the results of Aubrey's field-work at Avebury and Stonehenge and notes on many other ancient sites, including Wayland's Smithy. Apparently the original title of the manuscript was to be Templa Druidum.
Aubrey, in 1648, at the age of 22, while out hunting with some friends near Avebury in Wiltshire, recognized in the earthworks and great stones placed about the landscape in and about the village a great prehistoric temple. In the following century, William Stukeley was to develop the claim that Avebury was an ancient cult centre of the Druids.
In addition to his 'discovery' of the Avebury complex, Aubrey is also remembered for his inclusion in a plan of Stonehenge in his Monumenta Britannica of a series of slight depressions immediately inside the enclosing earthwork. Curiously, Stukeley does not record them in his painstaking examination of the site, and it was not until excavations undertaken in 1921-25 by the Society of Antiquaries that they were found to be holes cut in the chalk to hold timber uprights. A total of 56 holes were discovered and named the Aubrey Holes in honour of John Aubrey's observation. These holes are now recognized as belonging to the first phase of the monument's construction." ...from "Earth Mysteries" Chris Witcombe - Sweet Briar College
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