Brief Lives: Stories and songs of old London

Brief Lives: Stories and songs of old London

Toronto Masque Theatre / Soulpepper Theatre Company as part of the Global Cabaret Festival 2013: Brief Lives by Patrick Garland. Directed by Derek Boyes. Starring William Webster with soprano Katherine Hill. Larry Beckwith music direction & violin, Katherine Hill viola da gamba, Terry McKenna lute & guitar. MORE

TARIQ_Kieran-Brief Lives“It was not so in Queen Elizabeth’s time!” and “When I was a boy, before the Civil War…” are often uttered by John Aubrey (William Webster) in this gentle, sweet and slight one-man play of nostalgia, mixed with select musical pieces of the era. Some of the music is by unknown composers, some is traditional and other by the likes of Lawes and Dowland, but all of it is in the service of the play and very much in the background. Webster brings Aubrey to life with panache; the famous gossip, destitute genteel and hanger-on of the late seventeenth-century England is now in his 70s, rambling around in his house coat, reminiscing.

The name-dropping is in full effect, so Charles I, Sir Walter Raleigh and Shakespeare all make an appearance, storied second-hand, as gleaned from the sources that may or may not be reliable, may or may not be prone to mythologizing. The Thomas Hobbes vignette is a first-hand recollection about one of regents being impertinent in the middle of Master Hobbes’s lesson. Of the many Queen E I related tales, none can upstage the account of the devoted Earl who travelled overseas for seven years so the court would forget that he had once farted while bowing. (“Oh! We have forgotten the fart!” was reportedly Her Majesty’s greeting upon his return.)

Katherine Hill sang the vocal parts with subtlety and Beckwith and McKenna made up the rest of the small on-stage band that added the essential musical spice to the proceedings.

There are four more performances: two today October 26 and two tomorrow. DETAILS

William Webster and Katherine Hill in the photo by Tariq Kieran


“The Three Ravens” is among the songs heard in the play–the piece which has had a remarkable life since the early seventeenth. Its twentieth-century life is quite something (from Peter, Paul and Mary’s version, to a video game Jack the Ripper). Here’s a rendition by Andreas Scholl, with the vocal score:


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