Brief Lives

Tuesday, 24 March, 1998

In this adaptation Patrick Garland has invented a character to play John Aubrey, which is nothing like the real John Aubrey. Garland has invented a character that is a decrepit old man who lives in a run down house full of curiosities.

This one-man play starts off brightly but begins to falter towards the interval. I found the stories were not gripping or interesting enough to sustain my attention for long periods of time and I was not alone in thinking this as some of the audience did not return after the interval. However, the play picks up significantly after the interval as the stories are more crisp and entertaining and there is more interaction with the audience. Some of the stories cover The Civil War and recollections of Sir Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare, Elizabeth I and many other well-known people.

Michael Williams (Husband of Judi Dench) is very competent playing this eccentric old man with ragged clothes and white dingy hair. In fact, when he came on stage I hardly recognised him. His timing and delivery is perfect, his performance could not be faulted. Any lesser man and this play would have fell flat.

The set is wonderfully designed by Tim Goodchild, who has recently won two 1998 Olivier Awards for Best Set, and Best Costume Design on "Three Hours After Marriage". The set features the interior of John Aubrey's old dusty room, which is full of books, furniture, curiosities and a big 4-poster bed. It captures the period and mood perfectly.

The play has received moderate reviews from the popular press. PATRICK MARMION for THE EVENING STANDARD says "Visual feast though it may be, the main attraction is Michael William's immaculately squalid performance". JEREMY KINGSTON of THE TIMES on William's performance "As Aubrey he goes in for more cackles and mumbling oh-oh-ohs than I wanted. They emphasise display more than empathy. But he is good with silence." SHERIDAN MORLEY says Michael William's performance "Lacks the sharp-edged stardom Roy Dotrice first brought to the role 30 years ago".

This play will not be everyone's cup of tea and it does demand a lot of concentration. Also, it is best not to go and see this play if you're feeling tired as the narrative and lack of action can easily send you to sleep!

(Darren Dalglish)

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