25 February 1969: Dotrice opens Brief Lives at Criterion

Published April 23, 2008

Roy Dotrice took a step to Guinness world record fame on 25 February 1969, when the award-winning actor opened in Brief Lives at the Criterion. His 400 performances at this venue, combined with other touring credits, saw Dotrice claim a world record for most solo performances with a total of 1,782.

Brief Lives had premiered two years earlier at the Hampstead theatre and spent two seasons on Broadway before making its West End bow at the Criterion. Dotrice played 17th century gossip John Aubrey, who shared his views and titbits of information about many important Elizabethan figures with the audience. Among those remembered anecdotally were Oliver Cromwell, William Shakespeare, Walter Raleigh and even Elizabeth I. The piece was adapted by Patrick Garland from The Memoirs, Miscellanies, Letters And Jottings Of John Aubrey.

More than forty years after the production was originally seen, Dotrice, now into his 80s, has revived the show and is touring once more. Brief Lives can be seen in Richmond this March.

Dotrice, born in Guernsey in 1923, was introduced to the idea of performing when he was shot down during World War II, taken as a prisoner of war and found himself entertaining fellow POWs to lift spirits. On his release, he pursued his acting dream, working at various rep companies before joining the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (later to become the Royal Shakespeare Company) in 1957. He stayed with the company for nine years, honing his craft alongside actors such as Paul Robeson, Sam Wanamaker, Peter O’Toole, Charles Laughton, Albert Finney and Laurence Olivier. He also introduced baseball to the cricket-loving company.

Dotrice’s career has included award wins at the 1969 BAFTAs for Misleading Cases and the 2000 Tony Awards for his performance in A Moon For The Misbegotten on Broadway. More recently Dotrice returned to Hampstead in 2006 to star in Best Of Friends opposite Patricia Routledge and Michael Pennington, for which he received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination. He was given an OBE in the 2008 New Year Honours List.

MA