Shakespeare's audience was more accustomed than we to receiving information aurally, and a play that is well read can be enjoyed by listening as much as by viewing. In many ways, radio productions have more freedom than do films. They can both give emphasis to the text and appeal to the listener's imagination. Another advantage is that the actors need not be chosen to fit a particular age or appearance. If one wants to know the plays well, I think audio tapes are a great means. They often have much more complete text than is usual in popular films.
For movie reviews, see William Shakepeare on Film and Video.
This page is permanently "in progress". I frequently add new entries and revise old ones as I hear new tapes and revisit old ones.
Hamlet. 1992. BBC Radio.
A lively dramatization, directed by Branagh and featuring many of his usual people, including Patrick Doyle doing the score. Leisurely pace with long musical interludes. Each player strives to extract the most from his lines, although Michael Hordern gives plain recitations as the Player King.
My only complaint about Branagh here is that in Hamlet's "antic" moments he speaks with a sort of schoolboy sing-song.
I noticed an opportunity for comedy in the first scene, but how would you pull it off on windy battlements while facing a glaring ghost? Horatio, having offered several kind sentiments to the Ghost, finally has a more mundane thought: "Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life / Extorted treasure in the womb of earth..."
The play is so familiar and the puzzles so many (someday I'll write "One hundred things that make no sense in Hamlet" -- I'm sure I won't be the first) that we sometimes forget that it is supposed to be a tragedy. Anything the performers can do to realize this is worthwhile. In this production, Ophelia is allowed to sing her last mad song clearly and unaffectedly, which I found quite moving.
Claudius Derek Jacobi Hamlet Kenneth Branagh Polonius Richard Briers Horatio Michael Williams Laertes James Wilby Player King Michael Hordern Player Queen Emma Thompson Gertrude Judi Dench Ophelia Sophie Thompson Ghost John Gielgud
Hamlet. 1998. Arkangel.
Although, as is the case with all the Arkangel recordings I have heard, the reading is very clear, the dramatization of this production is rather dull. Simon Russell Beale's Hamlet is a very familar "type" of the part (intellectual, fastidious, self-absorbed) almost to the point of caricature. (Sort of like the Hamlet in the film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead). Now, Norman Rodway's Polonius is also familar, but much more satisfying. Perhaps Polonius does not suffer from being caricatured.
I like Bob Peck, but his Claudius is a poor reading.
The grave diggers are amusing. Hamlet narrates "The Mousetrap", a good idea for a radio presentation.
This production demonstrates one of the virtues of audio readings: Beale is an actor who doesn't look like a typical Hamlet, but there is no reason why he shouldn't play him.
King Lear. 1994. BBC Radio.
Lear John Gielgud King of France Derek Jacobi Cornwall Robert Stephens Albany John Shrapnel Kent Keith Michelle Gloucester Richard Briers Edgar Ian Glen Edmund Kenneth Branagh Fool Michael Williams Oswald Bob Hoskins Goneril Judi Dench Regan Eileen Atkins Cordelia Emma Thompson
Measure for Measure. 1998. Arkangel.
All good performances, particularly Stephen Magnan as Lucio and Stella Gonet as Isabella.
As always, the Duke's character is a mystery. Here he is played with a combination of nervousness and self-assurance.
The ending works well enough except (as always) for the Duke's proposal to Isabella. I imagine everyone on stage gawking at the Duke in astonishment when he says the lines.
Irritating incidental music.
The Merchant of Venice. 1964. Caedmon.
Antonio Harry Andrews Bassanio Jeremy Brett Shylock Hugh Griffith Lorenzo Ian Holm Portia Dorothy Tutin
The Merchant of Venice. 19xx. Arkangel.
Portia Hadyn Gwynne Shylock Trevor Peacock Bassanio Julian Rhind-Tutt Antonio Bill Nighy Gratiano Will Keen Lorenzo Matthew Delamere Jessica Sarah-Jane Holm Nerissa Alison Reid Launcelot Gobbo David Tennant The Duke Geoffrey Whitehead Morocco Colin Salmon Arragon Robert Morgan Old Gobbo Ronald Herdman Salerio Jonathan Tafler Solanio Nicholas Murchie
The Merry Wives of Windsor. 1966. Caedmon.
Falstaff Anthony Quayle Fenton Alec McCowen Slender Ronnie Stevens Ford Michael Hordern Page Anthony Nicholls Hugh Evans Aubrey Richards Doctor Caius Micheál MacLiammóir Mistress Ford Joyce Redman Mistress Page June Jago Anne Page Judith Stott Mistress Quickly Hazel Hughes
A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1964. Caedmon.
Othello. 1960. Caedmon.
The best performances, for clarity of speaking and the value of their interpretations, are those of Anna Massey (Desdemona), Celia Johnson (Emelia), and Alan Bates (Cassio). Frank Silvera's Othello has good moments when he slows down and enters his story-telling mode. Cyril Cusack's Iago is not satisfying. The voice is lazy and insinuating, lacking the passion suggested by the often-repeated "I hate the Moor".
I did not get any fresh illumination from this production, although this is the first time I noticed Desdemona called "our great captain's captain", matching the later "Our general's wife is now the general". Iago is lying in the second instance, but what does Cassio mean in the first?
The sexual and racial features of the story are skipped over lightly. This is a problem with many radio productions: all passages are given equal weight whether they deserve it or not. As I said, Othello does give more emphasis when telling his stories of courting Desdemona and of the strawberry handkerchief.
What to do about the final scene? The traditional shrieking and bellowing makes me wince and does nothing to exploit the text. Tragedy becomes comic when you overdo it. Grief must be expressed with less realism to be effectively performed.
Romeo and Juliet. 1993. BBC Radio.
Chorus Iam Holm Escalus Norman Rodway Paris Nicholas Farrell Montague Bernard Hepton Capulet Richard Briers Romeo Kenneth Branagh Mercutio Derek Jacobi Benvolio Simon Callow Tybalt Ian Glen Friar Laurence John Gielgud Lady Montague Dilys Laye Lady Capulet Sheila Hancock Juliet Samantha Bond Nurse Judi Dench
Romeo and Juliet. 1998. Arkangel.
Sonnets. 19xx. Ronald Coleman, Cassette Book Company 1983.
Sonnets. 1995. Penguin.
The Tempest. 1998. Arkangel.
Bob Peck is a peevish Prospero, Jennifer Ehle an intelligent Miranda. Very fine production quality and impressive storm sequence! Good articulation of the text throughout. Most of the spirit songs are done as recitations.
As usual, the episodes with Caliban and the drunken sailors are drained of humor. What would it take to do these properly? No doubt Caliban is more pathetic to us now than when originally written, and this makes the performance difficult. I'm not sure of the intent of his accent in this production: deformity, unhumaness, or simply foreigness?
The dialogue of Miranda and Antonio is done too seriously. A bit of gentle humor would not be out of place.
Titus Andronicus. 1966. Caedmon.
Ages of Man. 1979. Caedmon.