Roy Dotrice and Patrick Garland discuss the play "Brief Lives"
BROADCAST: Sep. 25, 1970 | DURATION: 00:55:17
Patrick Garland directs Roy Dotrice, who plays the old and lonely John Aubrey in "Brief Lives". While in studio, Dotrice reenacts part of the one-man show. Garland explains that the play is about John Aubrey, on the last day of his life, telling the audience about the past lives he's encountered.
Studs Terkel One of the most exhilarating evenings of theater I've ever experienced took place the other night at the Arlington Park Playhouse. It's a one-man program, but that doesn't tell it. It's an actor, an astonishing one, Roy Dotrice, playing the role of a 17th Century British diarist named John Aubrey, and it's the thoughts of Patrick Garland, the director, he's the one who adapted it and found snippets, fragments in the life of Aubrey, and it tells us of a society, a picture of a society, a picture of ourselves, but mostly fantastic evening, and they're my two guests this morning. Roy Dotrice and Patrick Garland in a moment. The program after this
Roy Dotrice Gideon Delaun, apothecary to Mary, the queen mother, a very wise man, now decrepit, place for him in the chimney corner, slighted not only by his daughter, but by the cook and the maid, and here was a man that was master of his own estate. Alas and God's will it was not so in Queen Elizabeth's time. In those days youth bear respect to old age. In those days, the elders of the parish sat and beheld the pastimes of the young men, such as wrestling, shooting at darts, bowling, dancing, dancing. All this is now [lost? lust?], and pride, whoring, wantonnesses and drunkennesses, their servants like clowns too, like drunkards too. Britches of one sort, doublet of another, drabbled with the tears of the tankard and greasy. Oh, I foresaw and foretold all the late changes and can easily foresee what will follow. You'll, you see in me the ruins of time. The day is almost at an end for me. Truly I am glad of it, I desire not to live in this corrupt age. Alas and God's will, it was not so in Queen Elizabeth's time.
Studs Terkel A remarkable moment in an evening that's unforgettable. You heard at the beginning there's a song, a street singer outside this, well, I'll ask Pat Garland, the director of this and ['cause he wrote?], and Roy Dotrice, who you just heard as John Aubrey, this cluttered, this cluttered apartment, it's filthy, dirty, decrepit of this remarkable old man. And outside the street noise, and so the song that Buffy Ste. Marie was singing is a song that a street singer does in opening this evening of brief lives, and you heard Roy Dotrice at the end and suddenly age. Pat Garland, I know it's your idea that the, "It was not so in Queen Elizabeth's day." Who is Aubrey? We know -- we'll ask you about Roy in a moment. Who is Aubrey? How'd you come across Aubrey?
Patrick Garland Well, he's, he was -- I say "was" because he no longer is, he was a relatively little-known biographer. He was known to students of English largely and enthusiasts. I wouldn't say that he didn't have a following, he did, but he was a minor memoire and gossip writer of the Jacobean and Caroline period. And in that extract that we heard Roy do, which he does so eloquently and movingly at the end, I would say it's a very interesting little comment to make on this that John Aubrey heard that. He is quoting not himself, but an old man called Thomas Tyndale, who was an old man in his 90s whom he knew, whose memories went back to Queen Elizabeth's time. And there I feel coming through the centuries you have the authentic voice of an Elizabethan, this extraordinary way that as a biographer once said about "the men with the ethics of pirates and the souls of great poets." This poetic speech and this feeling for the past, this nostalgia for the day that has vanished and won't come back again.
Patrick Garland Absolutely. Everything is so, so contemporary. I mean, we're still saying that. I mean, old people today are still railing against youth and saying, "In my days, youth [bear? pay?] respect to old age, will 'twas not so in my time, but things have changed very little over the centuries. And what I find so contemporary about it is that his own ideas about education which, you know, in those days when they believe, believed in beating children into submission
Patrick Garland Yes. I mean, his idea were that the school should be a house of play and pleasure, not of fear and bondage, and so many of his ideas and the stories that he tells about some of his tutors there, you know, if you remember Dr. Ralph Kettle, who was irreconcilable to long hair, called them hairy scalps.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] I thought of, I thought Aubrey was A.S. Neill. You see, as he was talking they sound like A.S. Neill of Summerhill, [including?] he said it should be a school -- a place, play of delight of joy and not of punishment, puniv--not of drudgery, this is Aubrey. And he was a -- you're talking now the time of Charles II, so 16-- Sixteen
Roy Dotrice Yes, quite. With scissors, yes. But I think there are so many of his things which are, I don't know whether it's a purely sentimental idea on my part, but within this marvelous framework that Pat has given me and which he has directed me in, we try to present a kind of portrait of old age, and he's not entirely sympathetic. I mean, one hopes that by the end of the evening you've grown to love this old man in spite of all his faults, because he has a lot. He's a fairly dirty old man, he lives in absolute squalor. He is slopping milk and his belching and all the rest of it, and he pees in a chamber pot and throws it out the window. There's a baby crying next door and he's hammering on the wall all the time, you know, telling it to be quiet. So, and he's a man which who like so many old people I've met repeat stories, and reiterates stories, and so there is a lot going against him actually, but in sp-- and so I like to think that, you know, in the background nearly every family has some kind of old person that they feel rather guilty about but is either living with them or in an old people's home that they don't visit too often, or somebody actually living with you, an old relation and they keep telling you stories about the First World War or whatever and, you're rather rude to them because of it, but I feel that if they've grown to love John Aubrey a little by the end of the evening, then perhaps, this may be purely sentimental idea on my part that they will go home and be nicer to their relatives for a few hours maybe.
Patrick Garland I think he's absolutely right. Is, see, I'm in my late thirties now, but still I'm just about old enough to be brought up in the generation that, that it was assumed that you would have old and boring slightly deaf relatives and you would have to come and shout at. And now we we've lived, we've passed through an era where the emphasis has been on youth and the splendors of youth, and I think some of these, these qualities are forgotten. Youth is very impatient, very intolerant, a lot wrong with old age. A great deal also wrong with youth, and I think Roy's right, is, is, I think that it reminds one of the helplessness and what the old boy says, the misery of old age, the vulnerability of old
Patrick Garland Oh, yes. Completely with tremendous energy and this enormous vital spark, and you asked me earlier really what gave me the idea. That's what communicated, that's what must have really been the inspiration, this, this voice really reaching you. I also think that it's a spoken voice rather than a written one. That great biographer and journalist Samuel Pepys whom everybody has read and enjoyed, but many attempts have been made to bring him to life. He's a writer primarily. He doesn't speak a lot very well apart from his famous phrase "and so to bed," but Aubrey line after line, phrase after phrase, throw-away after throw-away, all is the spoken word.
Roy Dotrice It has the same quality of vitality that other great masterpiece Lord Byron's letters, a person who could communicate his thinking actively to the paper at that moment, not put it into literature.
Patrick Garland Hence the title, "The Brief Lives". He was obsessed with other people's lives. He was a busybody. He kept finding out information and he fell into disrepute, I think, after his life partly because of his own vagueness he never published anything, so it didn't exist very much. And then when people got 'round to publishing it, was already almost the Victorian period, and they didn't like that, that wasn't their idea of history at all, which as we know from McCauley and people was to ennoble mankind to find, to discover heroes. Luckily we went through that period and then in an age which realizes that all heroes have feet of clay from Lytton Strachey's book "Eminent Victorians" onwards, Aubrey has come into much greater repute and one realizes that his view of history is probably much more true to life.
Patrick Garland Absolutely.
Roy Dotrice Well, you know I've learned so much about history if I'm to believe John Aubrey, which indeed I do. I'll give you an example. Recently we had an article which appeared in one of the color supplements of the Sunday papers in England, the Sunday "Times", written by an American, I can't remember the name at the moment, but he was propounding a theory that the works of Shakespeare weren't written by Shakespeare at all. We've all heard this one of course before, but this fellow maintained that in fact they were written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who apparently sat in his study for thirty years and achieved the works of Shakespeare at the end of it. Now, Aubrey tells the story which if you are to believe it, makes a sound extremely improbable, and Aubrey merely tells us, he says, "Edward de Vere, the Great Earl of Oxford, in making his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a fart. Whereupon he was so ashamed and abashed, he went to travel for seven years. At his return, Queen Elizabeth welcomed him home and said, "Ah, my lord. We have forgot the fart." Well, if you are to believe that, you know that he spent seven years getting away for that indiscretion, it's hardly likely he sat in his study for thirty and wrote the words
Studs Terkel In my own reaction, the laughter, as the audience does, and you know invariably wildly, I overrode the laugh that Aubrey has through the voice and the imagination of Roy Dotrice here. These, the stories you tell, of course, they're incredible, and of course there's Sir Walter Raleigh is one I insist later on that Roy do, insist.
Patrick Garland With pleasure. I never, never tire of hearing it. There again, you see it's another example when we come to it about Sir Walter Raleigh. Perhaps one shouldn't say this, I think we all do, but it's true there is no smoke without fire, and the very fact that if Aubrey collected and heard even at second or third hand, these stories about indiscretion and as you say, this wonderful gaminess of these Elizabethans, it's extremely unlikely that they weren't like it. You don't hear the same stories about the Puritans, although if Aubrey has one or two, but that seems to be such a perfect glimpse of history in a funny sort of way. I mean, whatever we don't know much about Mary Queen of Scots, but I'd bet my bottom dollar in the great day of judgment that we will discover that she had a very active love life. I would be very surprised if she didn't, and when they read about our own present Queen Elizabeth II, about whom there is no scandal, is that there aren't going to be any of the stories, because there is no inspiration for them. And that again is where I think Aubrey is often right, and you can understand how the Victorians didn't like that. That wasn't quite their version of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney, who had an incestuous affair with his sister and things like that.
Studs Terkel You know, there is a -- I wish I had it now. There is a little song, there's a Walter Raleigh song, and one of the girls whom he, whom he seduces and robs him, now there's a song, I wish I had it, we could insert it right
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Patrick Garland I mean, you one reads all this romantic poems and then the advice he wrote in poetry form to his son, you know, which is a very romantic idea, and yet when one finds the true relationship between him and his son, it's much more human, and much more interesting
Patrick Garland Can I interrupt there, Studs? He actually had it already. And this is how the whole thing came about. Roy was playing Justice Shallow in Henry IV in the 400th anniversary of the Shakespeare season, a very distinguished season, and I happened to see. Now we didn't know each other. Everybody thinks that we'd known each other for a long time and Roy said, "You know, can you find a vehicle?" I said "I'd like to do a one-man play for you." On the contrary. It happened more romantically than that, and I watched Roy play this part and then when the play ended, I felt such a loss of that character, this quavering voice and these extraordinary characteristics and the vitality, that I felt there must be a life beyond that part. Well, at the same time coincidentally I'd always felt subconsciously that John Aubrey would make a real character and entertain an audience onstage, but I had nowhere to direct it, nowhere to go with it, and when I saw Roy it literally hit me. We then later met. I was astonished to discover, which you haven't I think pointed out, that Roy is a very young man, although he seems about 110 onstage. And I went to stay with him after we talked about it a bit. We tried a couple of pieces, and I think the whole play funnily enough it was written in 48 hours flat. Admittedly day and night, but it came out in one
Studs Terkel After talking about this, there's one performer, see, on the stage. So we come to the stage, we'll come to Raleigh in a moment, don't worry. The stage -- the props become part of life. Everything is used and also, the sense memory, the sense -- we smell, we -- I'm sure the people think that -- place, we actually smell it! And we actually feel it!
Roy Dotrice We try to present it as I think Pat's phrases is a slice of Jacobean kitchen sink, and it is a kind of, it is that we try to present it as though it were documentary of the period, they're coming in, we don't use a curtain or anything, but the props spit out from the stage into the auditorium and we have over 2,500 genuine antiquities on stage, and they
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible].
Roy Dotrice You say the man it was a magpie, I mean not only did he collect stories, but he collected items of interest to him and people that he'd met, the kidney of Thomas Harcourt that he saw burned at the stake, and he saw this kidney broiling away in the fire and decided to collect that, which has now become petrified and is like a piece of agate polished
Patrick Garland Feather
Roy Dotrice That's it, you know, I mean some people I think are vaguely shocked by the language, some of the four-letter words they use, but Elizabethans used them quite freely, and there's no attempt to shock at them, it's because we're trying to portray a genuine portrait of that period.
Studs Terkel I think also of the food. He's obviously -- Aubrey's having a rough time, isn't he? He's a poor man. Now he's collected all, he's now forgotten, he's in this room and their noise outside, revelers, and the kids, the babies crying upstairs, at the same time the gentleness -- he hears this longhaired lute player, doesn't he? He's a gentle
Roy Dotrice I'm glad you mentioned that. Yes, that's very true, that in the midst of this cacophony of awful sound, the writing school master upstairs banging away, the revelers coming back drunk from the alehouse singing under his window, the baby crying and all that, and yet in the midst of this he can pick [out? up?] the gentleness of the notes on the lute of the longhaired lute player practicing next door and admire it. And it does show tremendous sensitivity in the midst of all this.
Patrick Garland Yes. There there's one other outside influence apart from seeing Roy performing and his own creative powers as an actor. I was at Oxford during that time of one of the last, what they call one of the last of the non-utilitarian eccentrics, a don called Canon Jenkins. He lived in Lewis Carroll's old, old house in Christchurch, and he died about six or seven years ago, but I was honored enough to be around the university at the time that he was teaching, and he had many extraordinary eccentricities. I used to see him, he'd come to dinner in my college, the other dons used to invite him out. He lived all alone, he was a bachelor, he lived very frugally, and he was a great, great historian. Not a good one, a really great scholar, and he used to drop off to sleep. And he also used to steal food, and he used to push it into the sleeves of his coat. Another thing he used to do was he used to mark his books with old slices of dripping toast, and he used to lecture at nine o'clock in the morning and when nine o'clock came, when none of the undergraduates being too lazy, none of them would ever get up, he would begin his lecture with nobody in the examination hall at all, and he lived, he used to tutor on a deck chair, seeing him, and when I tell you he got immured in books that is genuinely true. He collected books until in the end it became a mania, and books used to arrive from all over the world in packages, and he walled off the whole of the top floor of his house from the stairs, and he lived downstairs surrounded by these books. I used to see them, piles of them on the staircase, and he died and he was discovered in his deck chair quite dead, and this idea of course of this combination as you have said of this great quest for beauty and scholarship, because he was a great scholar surrounded by this carelessness about his personal life also came into that, into that character.
Roy Dotrice So was he the man who, who, 'cause you have quoted the story to me. I don't know if it's the same one who, after the wars, was after the war, he met a chap, one of the freshmen going across the quadrangle and he went up to him, he said, "Wilkinson," he said, "Was it, was it you, or was it your brother who was killed in the war?"
Patrick Garland Yes, he didn't in fact make many Spoonerisms, but he did do some. There's another story about him, he said to an undergraduate, "I, I, look, I'd like you to come to tea tomorrow and meet Mr. Cassen." And the undergraduate said, "But I am Mr. Cassen." Spooner said, "Yes, but come all the same." Well there's a big tradition of course of Oxford dons, but Aubrey was in that tradition, I mean there's no doubt.
Patrick Garland Yes.
Studs Terkel Just as the French during the turn of the century, the Belle Epoque, speak of the grand courtesans, that -- the grand eccentrics. Here was part of -- but Aubrey, coming back to the performance, 'cause I'm thinking about the theatrical, wondrousness of it. That -- here's Roy. And -- eating. Or so he pours some thick milk or cream and he's cooking at the same time on the stage, and now comes the subject, now comes the matter of your eating it. We see this incredible scene, don't we, and we smell it and you eat it, and the
Roy Dotrice The fish, yes, the rotten fish and all the rest of it, because I mean he has you know, in asfar as he's able to with his means, which are very limited, he has stocked up to a certain amount, because there was always the constant fear of the plague, you know, and that at any moment you may get walled up and have to live there for God knows how long until the plague had passed by, and that was the great atom bomb of that period, the plague, which was hanging over them and wiped out vast numbers of people, and so he is very much alone. In fact we often thought that we were contemplating at one time doing a film, and Pat came up with a very good idea, actually, I thought that, that one, that it should take place and one should see right in the midst of this plague-infested portion of London, the doors actually being boarded up, you know, and the death carts going along, "Bring out your dead" and all the rest of it, and Aubrey stuck in this room.
Patrick Garland Nobody ever, ever finding him, which of course happens as we know it happens in New York. It happens in London and all our big cities, you hear constantly of people who've been dead for three or four weeks, just nobody has known them.
Roy Dotrice And Pat had a very good idea, I thought, for the end of the film, instead of just putting up "The End", what we intended to do was to see John Aubrey in this chair, you know, dying, and then sort of pulling away and coming back in several days later with the whole figure covered with cobwebs and all the rest of it several weeks later, and just had the inscription which we found of the recording of his death. Now, this in itself is interesting, because Aubrey was a man as Pat has told you who lived a good deal of his life at Oxford both as a gentleman commoner and he went there when it was a garrison town for King Charles and he kept returning to Oxford and in fact died at Oxford, and he wrote so much about Oxford we've often thought of doing a show composed entirely around his exploits at Oxford, which would be fascinating. And when we were researching his death we found that he had been buried in Mary Maudlin's church and we delved into the archives and Pat found the recording of his death, and this man who had written so unceasingly about his beloved Oxford, the recording of his death said "John Aubrey, a stranger, was buried here 1697," and we thought that might make a marvelous sort of epitaph actually at the end of the show.
Studs Terkel Ironic, of course, the irony of it. Talking to Roy Dotrice and Patrick Garland, and their quite magnificent production and performance of "Brief Lives". John Aubrey, this one man who is, represents so many men in the whole society on stage at the Arlington Park Theatre. By the way, it's through Sunday night, and there are two performances I believe on Saturday, and it's memorable. We'll return in a moment to the conversation, more about Aubrey, Garland, Dotrice. [pause in recording] Coincidentally, Mr. Garland is the director of the smash in London right now, "Billy", which is the musical adaptation of "Billy Liar", and also he directed the, one of the film versions of "A Doll's House", the one with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins.
Studs Terkel Fantastic.
Studs Terkel However, well, we can touch on that, too. We've come to Aubrey, though, and his story. So in a way he's a, he's chronicling the time. It's funny, oh, by -- we haven't talked about the -- want of a better word, the physicalization of Roy Dotrice. Everything he does, the ges-- we haven't talked about
Roy Dotrice Does take a long time, it takes three hours a day, which is a -- and my skin suffers a little because of it. Obviously, you know, putting plastic and surgeral spirit and acetone on your face all the time
Patrick Garland Somebody said to me about, a lot of people say, you know, not only the hands are wrinkled, this extraordinarily convincing makeup, he said, "His eyes are all red-rimmed. How does he, how does he get this tremendous effect of this red rim around his eyes? His aged eyes?" I said, "I'm afraid to say he gets it very simply, he pours some terrible kind of acid into them." Roy's -- you know, I mean I really worry about him. He punishes his face and skin.
Roy Dotrice Yes, I make a mixture of liquid paraffin and red carmine and glycerin and this I put in with a dropper inside the eye, you see, which seeps out during the show. But that's why I started to wear specs, actually.
Patrick Garland Absolutely.
Studs Terkel I think you're about a half-hour or more in makeup than Hal Holbrook in "Mark Twain", Hal Holbrook spent about three hours to do "Mark Twain". Big question to ask. Just reminded me of it. John Aubrey and Roy Dotrice. Is there a problem now? You've done it many times and you're absolutely incredible. Is there a problem now of you the actor and others saying, "Where does John Aubrey leave off and Roy Dotrice begin?"
Roy Dotrice My wife gets a little worried about that lot, sometimes actually, because I come home and I'm no longer housetrained and I slop milk all over the place, and tend to belch in company. It does hang on a bit, and I think she's looking forward to some day when I eventually bury John Aubrey actually and she can get back to her husband again. It's a great preparation for old age, I'm not so frightened of it anymore, actually, if I, if I live to be as vital as John Aubrey was in his last days. I'm afraid of loneliness, of course, because I have a wife and three marvelous children, three daughters, two of which are acting actually, the one has opened her this last week in a play in London and has had very good reviews. The other one is just sort of starting, she's finished school and she's just starting on a professional career, although she did quite a lot once upon a time, did a lot of films for Walt Disney. I don't know if you ever saw a film called "Mary Poppins", did
Studs Terkel I
Studs Terkel You said something, play due to loneliness, too. And of course that's -- there's one story again this is -- Patrick, you and Roy are the -- finally able to -- Aubrey, all the aspects of human life. In a way it is a human comedy. The -- when he speaks of this man who had a friend, you know this guy was senile. Could you do -- how'd that go again?
Roy Dotrice Sir James Harrington, Esquire, now he would, he would discourse rationally enough, but he grew to have a fancy that his perspiration turned to flies. He had a versatile timber house built, turned toward the sun and he would go there and sit and chase away and massacre all the flies that were to be found there. Quarter of an hour later, two or three or more or flies would be drawn out of their lurking holes by the warmth, and then he would cry out, "Aaah, do you not see that these flies do come from me?" Under the strangest kind of madnesses I ever found in anyone. Talk of anything but flies, he was very pleasant and ingenious. His oldest friend was Henry Neville, Esquire, who never deserted him to his dying day. Although for over a year before James Harrington died, his memory and his discourse were taken away, yet this old friend, Henry Neville paid his visits as duly and as respectfully as when James Harrington was in the prime of his understanding. A true friend.
Patrick Garland It reminds me also -- there is, there is something I would like to do with Roy. I'd like to do even more than ever since we've been on this as it were last tour of it, because Roy's going to do-- play this play for a year, and also another play, and that is on a character who I think resembles Aubrey, and that's Chekhov, and you were talking earlier before we began the program about Chekhov. He said, "If you're afraid of loneliness, don't marry." It makes you think everybody marries on account of not being lonely. But the same preoccupation as in his plays with his characters, this mixture of the tragi-comedy of life and the very deep pain and the great comedy, and also that the kind of shape would be the same. I would like to place it in Chekhov's last year where he was waiting for his wife Olga Knipper who in fact never turned up. He kept saying, "Please come and stay," and she kept saying, "I will, but you know rehearsals are very difficult," never came, never came, never came. And this man just slowly and quietly dying of consumption which as a doctor he diagnosed himself. Has the same sort of shape in it.
Patrick Garland Yes.
Roy Dotrice Yeah, well, I was playing Firs, you know, this old servant who was left behind by the family at the end, and I was coming out of the theatre one night and I heard this very English gentleman saying to this very English lady, he said, "Well, it was a damned good play, wasn't it, damned good play." And she said, "Yes." He said, "Rum do, you know? Rum do, them leaving the old boy like that in the end." she said, "Yes." He said, "Oh, well, it's a typical Russian muddle." I suppose they went back to beat their own servants actually.
Studs Terkel You know, this hour's going to go very quickly and we'd be remiss if we didn't hear one, another one of John Aubrey's recollections to the audience, and that's about Sir Walter Raleigh seducing the girl, but the one about his son. Will you, will you mind sort of setting the scene for, Patrick
Roy Dotrice Yes. Well, love to really because here this gives this extraordinary insight and glimpse into an Elizabethan family and the kind of way they behaved and the sheer personality we know from legend and history that Sir Walter Raleigh was an exceptional larger-than-life figure, but we know it mainly through his historical exploits. But here suddenly you see a glimpse of what this extraordinary man who was the favorite of Queen Elizabeth and yet spoke as Sir Aubrey said, speak broad Devonshire to his dying day. Incidentally, we only know that from Aubrey, that's the source, and we also know his name was pronounced, it's "Rawly" because King James said, "Ah, I have heard [rawly? royally?] of thee." Aubrey also quotes that, it's not "Rally" or "Really." Anyway, here's this picture of Sir Walter Raleigh and his son. "James Harrington was a great acquaintance of Walter Raleigh and he told me that one time Sir Walter, being invited to some great house to dinner, where his son was to go with him, Sir Walter said to his son, 'Thou art such a quarrelsome affronting creature, I am ashamed to have such a bear in my company.' Young Master Walt promised he would behave, so away they went. And young Master Walt was very demure -- at least until half dinnertime. Then said he, 'I this morning went to a whore. I was very eager of her, kissed and embraced her, and went to enjoy her when she thrust me from her and vowed I should not, for, said she, 'Your father lay with me not a half-hour ago.' Well, Sir Walter was so strangely surprised and put out of countenance at so great a table. He fetches his son a damn blow across the face. Now his son, rude as he was, would not strike his father, but strikes the face of the gentleman who sat next to him, and said, 'Well, box about. 'Twill come to my father or none.' It is now a common problem. Box about."
Studs Terkel Of course, see what happens, as he was doing it now, I'm just recalling seeing him on the stage, too. And then he just, he's also getting a kick out of the phrase himself, and sometimes repeating himself, reflecting, and now he came to the other dimension of Roy's performance and your direction. That's now the audience is included now, as an old man recollecting and it's quite like old man can be speaking to voices, and now we have the actual audience,
Roy Dotrice Yes, well the situation vaguely is that the hero is an old man, a very lonely old man stuck in this room in the last day of his life, and he wakes up being aroused by revelers of who said for coming back from the ale house, and so he suddenly discovers, he gets up and he gets dressed and he starts cooking himself a breakfast, and he suddenly discovers he's not alone in the room anymore. That there are, that he has an unexpected guest, namely the audience, and he's delighted, you see, this lonely old man, so he talks to them and he tells them all these stories and he goes through all these tricks for them just like a circus horse until eventually through sheer fatigue he falls asleep, and they wander out and have some mulled claret or whatever they want to have which they serve in the foyer and they have whatever they want to have, and then they come back in and then the baby cries and wakes this old man out of the twenty-minute nap, and then he carries on exactly where he left off. So the point I'm getting at is that here is a very lonely old man talking to an unexpected guest, the audience, and I therefore try to play off them as much as possible, because they do provide a tremendous, tremendous stimulus and they are totally unpredictable. We don't know how they're going to react every night, and you know this all adds to the fun and certainly helps me to keep it fresh.
Roy Dotrice Then if they sneeze in the second half or round about the plague section, I say, "This sneezing doth much perturb me. It is the first symptoms of the Plague," which indeed of course it was, and then that, the nursery rhyme that we have, about "Ring a ring of roses, pocket full of posies, achoo, achoo, we all fall down," is not quite as funny as we think, because the ring of roses were the sort of strawberry marks around the neck and under the armpits and things, and the pocket of posies, they carried around the dried herbs and flowers, which the smell from the plague was dreadful, they also thought it was some kind of cure. "Achoo, achoo," the sneezing, "we all fall down."
Roy Dotrice Yes, it does. What we have been trying to do this time, thanks to Pat, and this is basically why Pat is here, I've been playing the show I said, a lot of now, a thousand times or whatever and some -- you know, all over England, and places as far afield as Sydney in Australia and Ottawa in Canada and so on, and playing to such a diversity of audiences where there have been slight problems in language, mainly a sense of humor I think more than anything, because we've agreed that the language is universal and comes over the centuries. But I have tended to broaden the performance a good deal, and I wanted to get back to the naïve charm of the man which I had originally and which Pat has been so instrumental in helping me get back to here at Arlington Park and you've just given me this review here by Claudia Cassidy, and it's the most wonderful review I've ever read, because she has said exactly what we wanted to achieve was, she starts off by saying, "Was 'Brief Lives' really that delightful the first time around or were we just starving for theatre and so unduly susceptible? It reassures me to discover that at Arlington Park Roy Dotrice may be not just as good as I remembered, but better," and I think it's basically because of Pat, and he has pulled me back into getting back the simpleness of character and the emphasis on the spoken word rather than on comedy business, which I'd resorted to over the years.
Studs Terkel That's interesting. By the way, on the point of Claudia Cassidy's review, when I was there, people at the end of the performance went back to the box office and some did, to buy tickets to see it again.
Roy Dotrice Really?
Roy Dotrice Actually, the performance you were in, a gentleman arrived with a party from Indiana, with the most marvelous etching which he'd done of John Aubrey, and had taken about a year to do it, on copper, which he presented to me, and he'd seen the show five times.
Roy Dotrice Yes, one man at the Mayfair Theatre, this, I hadn't met him after the first week of the run at the Mayfair, but he'd seen it 35 times at the Criterion Theatre. So I've got a very good understudy there I would have thought.
Studs Terkel When, it would conceivably then there's -- it's very understandable, because see, it's so rich. The performance is so rich, the scripting, the direct, direction is so rich that, each time there's more and more, more nuances each time, at the same time you're battling something, he the actor. And that's why Patrick Garland is here, you're battling the inclination of the actor, full as he is of his imagination and vitality, he's still thinking of reactions of the audience.
Roy Dotrice Absolutely. You've hit it right on the head there, actually, Studs, because in fact actors are stupid creatures, and I'm no exception, and they tend to judge the success of a performance in which there is comedy by the volume of the laughter, and I think that that is entirely untrue that, sometimes people in the audience have said to me, "I objected to the people laughing around me, because it suddenly brought me back to the fact that I was in a theatre, and people were laughing, and I much prefer to sit there and chuckle to myself rather than be nudged in the ribs by the person sitting next to me, falling about with laughter." So I'm terribly grateful that Pat is here and able to pull back the reins and drive it in the right direction.
Studs Terkel But it is both, isn't it? I mean, it is both, see the fact you can't stop the -- of course, it's incredible, the howls, and that's natural. Your point is, Pat has to be there to see that you yourself, who are so fantastic, don't over
Roy Dotrice Go, don't, because it's so much better when it's understated actually. It's much funnier, much realer, if one starts playing comedy business just for the sake of it, then it's terribly wrong, it becomes in a sort of vaudeville or musical tradition.
Studs Terkel As it is at the Arlington Park Theatre, has a stage and it's intimate and there's you -- there's one spot where you're very close to the audience, you know, and you go -- oh, by the way, there are student seats, students sit around on cushions -- more re-- cheaper prices for the students there. And you're right there with them, and again it's the byplay you and have and
Roy Dotrice That's, that is marvelously intimate, one of the nicest things that ever happened to me in this play happened at Arlington Park last year, he tells a story about William Shakespeare that has been told to him by Shakespeare's neighbors that when he came to London, Shakespeare, he was an actor, and his, he was a -- an actor in one of the playhouses, the Globe Playhouse, and he said, and he says "The very top of his performance as an actor was as the ghost! The ghost in his own play" -- and I pretend I can't remember the name, you see, and this little girl sitting like two inches away from me, now very often one gets a reaction from the audience that prompt you and say, "Hamlet" in a very loud voice, and you say, "Ah, Hamlet," but this little girl was so believing in the character that she prompted me very indiscreetly, and when I said, "Played the ghost in his own play," she leant across me, she said, "Hamlet." She didn't want anyone else to know that I'd dried. That was a marvelous moment of audience participation.
Studs Terkel There's a great one the other night, he's talking about the illness, or the certain illness that Doctor Rickets had discovered, the night I was there, and they had no name! How did you describe it again? Swollen heads and?
Roy Dotrice Yes, being very famous for the cure of chil-- this man Rickets, well-known in the practice at physick, being very famous for the cure of children with swollen heads and small legs, now this being a new disease, there being no name for it, and he being so famous for the cure of it, they called it
Roy Dotrice Yeah, well one then goes on and says, "But now to such sport to see how they do vex their lexicons and fetch it from the Greek" Rexes, the backbone. Rickets." But you can involve people tremendously, particularly with the intimacy of this theatre.
Patrick Garland That's typical example of Aubrey's hearsay and gossip, you call that rickets in America, don't you? Children with bent legs, you see, one can't say that, that Aubrey is necessarily right, but it is typical of his knowledge of human life that it didn't come from a fancy Greek word, but it came from a rather good doctor in the 16th century who just happened to be rather well-known, and they said, "Oh, you've got Rickets' disease."
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about the evening then, this experience I should say, it opens up as he gets up out of bed and of course it's funny he's getting into his raggedy clothes and that's, it's quite a job itself, and the noises outside and the child crying, and it ends there's Aubrey with that, with that passage you read at the beginning of this pro-- there's the end of it, you know, near the end, and a child's voice, babies crying again.
Roy Dotrice No, I was going to say that what is interesting is that some of the medical cures of the period are so way out, and so fantastic. You know, the man that was hanged because he had these terrible pimples on his face and they hanged him and let out the black ugly blood, and the child suffering with the thrush they stick a frog in its mouth 'til it's dead and so on, and the kind of strange supers-- if you remember that story, says, "A gentlewoman, a great acquaintance of mine, had a beloved daughter who had long been ill and received no benefit of her physician. The mother dreamed that if she gave her daughter a drench of yew pounded, she would recover. So she gave her the drench, and, and it killed her. Whereupon the mother grew quite distracted. Her chambermaid, to humor her and to mitigate her grief, said, 'Oh, surely, that would not kill her.' She would adventure to drink the same herself. So she did. And it killed her also."
Studs Terkel Also, the mind we should point this out, this is really, all aspects of life, the mind of an elderly guy also wandering coming back, and his crotchets and his perversities and everything else -- over and above all that, the tremendous will to live himself. Isn't it?
Roy Dotrice Yes.
Patrick Garland I think it must have come, in a peculiar way from his own, his own life. He obviously, he lacked a human quality, he lacked one or two, he lacked ambition for an example, which I think is where he becomes so endearing when you watch him. He never really particularly wanted to achieve anything. He preferred speculative knowledge and scholarship to making his way in the world. And I think this is something that's very sympathetic to a lot of young people who see it. The other thing that he lacked really was a kind of iron discipline that most great scholars and academics have, a great capacity for disciplined work. He was interested in something else and so I think that this is borne out by his writings as he just says himself, he never finished anything, you see, he only published one, one book, and that quite a slim volume, and he was going to do so many things, write plays, write up education, do scholarship about the Avebury rings, which is like Stonehenge, which he discovered incidentally, and he was a member of the Royal Philosophical Society. And all these things that he could have achieved a great deal, he never got around to it, and I think in that way he resembles a certain kind of human being, and in that way his works do mirror that, that this discursiveness.
Studs Terkel Isn't that it, even though it's trivia and the detail, suddenly it falls into place and reveals an age. It does! The people, that the education, the punishments, the penalty, the punitive aspects of everything.
Roy Dotrice And the ridiculous of some of the things, we said that he was very progressive about education. But there again, you know, he comes up with some things which leave a lot to be desired. When he says, for instance, "No scholar to be beaten about the head, but in the case of serious naughtiness, thumbscrews would have to be employed."
Patrick Garland Exactly.
Studs Terkel Also he wrote. We -- the one thing that's astonishing, people during intermission by the way, John Aubrey, Roy Dotrice is asleep. This is where you ca-- by the way, the question of his energy is one I suppose Pat that you think of a great deal, don't you?
Roy Dotrice Well, my wife tells me I do a lot of twitching whilst I'm asleep, facial muscles and arms and fingers and so on. And my wife tells me I haven't started doing that yet in my sleep. I should think any moment now.
Studs Terkel More of Aubrey habits. [I figure?] Roy Dotrice, but the idea of, onstage completely fully, absolute presence. I remember I've had the thought that I see plays with 50 people, and there's no life, it's empty. I see a play with one actor, one performer, and it's full.
Patrick Garland It's a great burden. You know enough about the art and the psychology of the actor, Studs, to sympathize with that. I certainly do. It's very lonely up there and I don't mean that sentimentally. It is in fact a very alone thing that Roy has to do. When you're surrounded by your fellow actors or you're in a musical and that sort of thing, it's very different, and you have to face that two and a half hours of isolation because if he cares to turn the light out, the audience can sit there and listen to him going through those words and get nothing from it, get exactly that kind of emptiness that you've described. So night after night, great fidelity and dedication, Roy has to use the creative powers rather than the interpretive powers of the actor, he has to people that stage.
Studs Terkel Creative powers, that's it, that's it, the creative power. So more than an interpreter, see an actor we think of as the term -- now we're talking about the creative spirit, his, the improvisation comes in, too. You see, just as he knows the role so well. I mean, aside from the number of times he performed it. He knows so well through his own insights and research and knowledge and work with you, that now you're so, in such complete control that you can make it fresh. Well, anyone really it's difficult so you can make it fresh after 4000 times.
Roy Dotrice Yes, but you can, you see, you can you know when you get a responsive audience. It's very difficult if the audience are unresponsive,, you know, because you have to -- you know, there is a means of presenting dramas and they are, I mean in the West we tend to present drama and the audience feel almost as if they're looking through, through a keyhole at the slice of life, whereas the sort of Brechtian approach is you sort of stand beside the character and you'll play it almost in the third person, and therefore one could do it as one does a normal drama, that is play everything with exactly the same timing that you pick up a cup not on a on a word or a, but a syllable, you know, and everything is exactly the same, ignoring the audience totally, but I feel that in order to keep it fresh I have to involve the audience, because as I said before, they are totally unpredictable, and they can spark off something on which you can elaborate on and get a very genuine laugh in character. And also it makes them feel involved, it makes them feel that they are in this old man's room and he is talking to them, you know, they're not just having a normal theatrical experience, that they are in front of this old man's real fire onstage, watching him cook and hearing these stories and in most cases I think believing them, which I hope they are.
Studs Terkel They believe him and I should point out that when I was there and I suspect this happens often, a standing ovation. I haven't seen that for a long time, an actual -- very moving, was a standing ovation, and there's Dotrice was just -- that's 'cause he was doing another performance right after that, too, after an hour and a half or so, but this happens often, doesn't it?
Roy Dotrice Yes, the American audiences are much more responsive in fact than the English audiences. We tend not to be terribly demonstrative in England which I think is a very bad thing. But the American audiences, if they like something, they do show their appreciation, and they have been absolutely wonderful. I enjoy playing this show in America much more than anywhere else in the world, actually.
Studs Terkel This is, by the way, point out through it's an experience and it would be remiss if you missed out on this one. It's memorable I think. I'm trying to think of certain performances I've seen that match this. Very, very few. It's at the Arlington Park Theatre through Sunday night and I know there are two performances on Saturday and it's before your New York opening. Oh, by the way, this -- pre-New York. That was a factor, you haven't opened in New York yet.
Roy Dotrice We open on October the 16th, I think. October 16th, and I'm looking forward to that tremendously. I find it, the whole Broadway scene a very exciting one, and I just hope that they like John Aubrey there.
Studs Terkel Well, we find you of course they will, we find you very exciting here. Thank you very much to both of you, Roy Dotrice and Patrick Garland for, for lending us insight and exhilaration if only for a couple of hours.
Roy Dotrice I just want to thank you for the most expli-- the most beautiful, relaxed interview I've ever had. I've had a few in my life, but this has been super, it's just been like talking to a friend. In fact, I think you could play John Aubrey.