SHAKESPEARE

Thames Shakespeare Classics

"Four Thames Shakespeare Classics are being released on digitally remastered DVD on the 24th May Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet and King Lear. I grew up with Thames Televsion and mourned their demise (who in their right minds thought Carlton could do better, eh?), so any release of Thames TV material is welcomed by me, and the Thames ident at the beginning of these productions took me back to my childhood and those wonderful days with continuity announcers behind desks, and repeats of cult classics in the afternoon!

The productions are very watchable, which sometimes isn't the case with Shakespeare on TV, and contain a host of names: Macbeth is the Royal Shakespeare Company Production and stars Sir Ian 'Gandalf' McKellan and Dame Judi Dench; Twelfth Night stars Richard Briers (the Good Life) and Caroline Langrishe; Romeo and Juliet stars Christopher Neame and Ann Hasson and Patrick Magee is King Lear.

The titles are 'as is' with no special features apart from the obligatory scene selection, but the picture and sound is very good, and these productions come from a time where making of documentaries and cast interviews were not the normal course of action to fill a DVD! All in all these are very nice additions to any serious drama collectors shelves, especially for the 12.99 price tag, and all can be ordered online using the following links:

King Lear VHS | DVD
Macbeth VHS | DVD
Romeo and Juliet VHS | DVD
Twelfth Night VHS | DVD

Some of the range

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing was probably written in 1598, and has proved popular with both actors and audience ever since. The first full-length broadcast was on the BBC on the Schools Programme in 1929, however, this production is from this year (and is scheduled for broadcast on Radio 3 on the 23rd September).

I find that on Radio you have none of the trappings of the stage to distract you from the text, and this is no exception, with the clarity of radio allowing the wonderful verbal sparring between Beatrice and Benedick to sparkle. This release comes complete with an introduction by Richard Eyre, former Director of the Royal National Theatre, and an accompanying booklet that includes a scene-by-scene synopsis, full character analysis, brief biographies of the leading actors and of Shakespeare himself, as well as an essay fromt he producer on their interpretation of the play.

This is not to be missed if you are studing the play this year, or just want to dip into the Bard. Alongside the other releases, this forms part of the definitive collection of Shakespeare radio productions.

King Lear

King Lear contains some of the most stirring scenes Shakespeare ever wrote, and they vibrate with powerful resonance int his grippingly dramatic radio production. Tortured madness, pure eveil, and the fatal struggle for power grip the listener until the final, shockingly tragic conclusion.

The first production on the BBC was broadcast on 2LO in September 1928, with this version scheduled for broadcast 73 years later on the 16th September.

The Tempest

One of my favourites, raging storms and rich, beautiful music cobine to magical effect in this radio production of Shakespeare's allegorical last play, where mystical forces work to restore harmony and order to an estranged community. I first saw an open air production of this in Greenwich Park, London, and the play combined with the glorious weather, and the surroundings, made an instant impact on me. With the action going on all around, you can appreciate the play much better, and this is where television cannot compete with either live or radio.

In this production, scheduled for broadcast on the 7th Ocotber 2001, Philip Madoc stars as Prospero, with Nina Wadia as Ariel. The first production was broadcast in January 1925 on 2LO.

Othello

In this story of evil cunning perverting a once noble mind, radio captures lago's sly hints and boasts to the audience with shocking clarity. The listener is led along an emotional path that grips with fascinating horror until the play's inevitably tragic conclusion.

Scheduled for broadcast on 30th Septemebr, the first production on BBC Radio was in March 1932 on the National Programme.

This latest batch of the definitive Shakespeare Collection are available as double cassettes or CDs and are priced 9.99, and 14.99 respectively. The BBC has a long heritage of Shakespeare productions on radio and television, with the first full length play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, broadcast in 1923 on the newly formed British Broadcasting Company. Sadly a recording of this does not exist, but over the course of the last few years, the BBC has produced an all new series of the Bard's plays.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

This was first broadcast on 2LO on 25th July 1923, with the first performance of the play in around 1595. This production was much later, being broadcast last October (the 3rd) on Radio 3. The production was recorded at the BBCs Manchester studios and has Richard Griffith's in the famous role of Bottom (others have included Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd, and Bernard Bresslaw - the comedian's route to the legitimate stage!). Peter Sallis also appears as Peter Quince, the co-ordinator of the play within a play.

Julius Ceasar

The first known performance of this play was in 1595, with the first BBC production on the 23rd March 1928 on 2LO. The latest was broadcast on Radio 3 on the 26th September last year. Gerard Murphy played Ceasar and Nicholas Farrell played Brutus. Julius Ceasar is a popular as there is a lot of interplay between several characters, rather than a star part, and is therefore suited to radio production.

Hamlet

Michael Sheen played the title role in this production of Hamlet, braodcast on Radio 3 on the 3rd September last year. This was a later play of Shakespear's and the first known performance was in 1602, with its debut on the BBC on the 15th February 1924 on 2LO. Of course, this has been a favourite for stage and screen, with Laurence Olivier famously playing the lead role on film in 1948 and even Mel Gibson giving it a go in the 80s.

Henry IV Part One

In this adaptation of the Bard's work, Julian glover played the title role, with a notable cast including Timothy West and Prunella Scales. This story was one of the later works to be broadcast by the BBC, being first performed on the Home Service on the 31st May 1945, and the latest version some 44 years later on the 13th February last year on thw World Service (and to my knowledge, no home broadcast has been made yet!). The very first performance is likely to have been in 1598,a s there is it was entered in the Stationer's Register on the 25th of Febrary of that year.

Romeo and Juliet

Broadcast on the 19th of September last year on Radio 3, this was the second in the series of recent productions, although the first time it was performed on the BBC was back in 1923 (5th July on 2LO). Romeo and Juliet is the definitive love story, with a long tradition on the stage and a notable film adaptation in the late 90s. It was also updated for the times when it was transferred to 50s America as West Side Story.

Twelfth Night

On the 17th May 1998, the BBC celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the first production of the play on BBC Radio by broadcasting this version on Radio 3. The first was boradcast on 2LO on 28th May 1923, with the very first known performance in 1602.

Henry IV Part Two

This is the second part of Henry IV, and continues the gripping history of england in the early fifteenth century. Themes of honour and friendship continue to resonate in the turbulent story of Hal and his former mentor Falstaff, and there is pathos amongst the trumpets of war as the prince turns away from the fool he once called friend.

Richard II

Richard II is the most lyrical of the Shakespeare plays and tells of Richard, son of the Black Prince, raised to believe in his divine right to rule England. The entire play is written in verse, with the rhythms of the language encompassing the themes of dignity and kingship with fitting granduer, as the capricious and narcissistic Richard is brough tto his own destruction.

The Merchant of Venice

This is a dramatic and complex comedy with love, bigotry and greed intertwined in this clear and fast moving production. Warren Mitchell stars as Shylock with Martin Jarvis as Antonio.