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VINE VOICEon 10 December 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
These are recordings from the archive, seemingly having been produced at the rate of one a year, either side of the millennium, originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Each play has been nicely packaged on 2 CDs in a fold out case giving the cast and credits and the track listing. The four are presented in an attractive slip case. It's a quite nice to have package and would be a good gift for a Shakespeare enthusiast.

Each play is introduced briefly (2-3 minutes) by Richard Eyre giving a short synopsis.

The plays have impressive cast lists - David Tennant and David Haigh in Much Ado About Nothing and Peter Sallis in Twelfth Night and Richard Griffiths to give just four of the well known names. These actors don't disappoint - certainly David Haigh as Dogberry steals the show.

The plays have good audio clarity which make the lines easy to understand and sufficient distinction between the voices to be able to distinguish who is talking - without needing to be an expert on the play. The music is also a support to the flow of the action.

Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew are probably the more successful of the quartet because they rely less on visual humour - no particular fault of these productions, since the plays were not written as audio only.

It's difficult to get the full impact of Malvolio's appearance in cross garters or of Bottom's ass's head in just speech - but anyone who has ever seen the plays will be able to mentally fill in those parts.

It's a tough task to do Shakespeare as audio only and it is a credit to all concerned that it has been done so well. However, these productions are probably not best for newcomers but rather for enthusiasts who can recall visual settings from theatre productions they have seen, to fill out the audio.
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Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As expected from quality of BBC broadcasting, the recordings of these plays are of the highest standard both from sound quality and voice acting perspectives. If you are a Shakespeare afficionado, then these may well be a valuable addition to your books. However for me, I discovered that I need the visual action as well as the reading to help get the most out of the plays. I am not an expert in understanding poetic language or colloquialism from the period, so I do find some sections of the plays puzzling without seeing them acted on stage or film. Still, it's a new experience and one that have enjoyed so far.
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on 14 December 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This collection of four radio 3 Shakespeare productions (Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night) immediately raises the question; does Shakespeare make for good radio?

The answer is a qualified yes; the productions and performances are excellent, and the language of Shakespeare of course needs no recommendation. However I would have to admit that there were moments where I had to "rewind" and listen to a scene again, because the lack of visual context (especially in scenes involving multiple characters, and even more so in plays where characters adopt disguises) sometimes makes it hard to understand what is happening.

This is where this collection falls short; whilst each play has an interesting and informative introduction by Richard Eyre, there is very little additional information to help the listener. For example, there is a cast list, but a Dramatis Personae (providing a more detail about the characters and their relationships) would have been most useful. There is a basic track list which only provides the barest of information (e.g. Act 1 Scene 2), but no description of the setting of each scene that you would find in the original texts.

If these reservations give the impression that I didn't enjoy these productions I would hasten to add that in fact I did very much (and it's refreshing to have something that makes demands on the listener rather than spoon-feeding), but they are challenging and I think more could have been done to make them more accessible.

I can highly recommend reading the superb short essays on each play by Mark Van Doren in Shakespeare (New York Review Books Classics) as an accompaniment to these CDs.
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VINE VOICEon 14 December 2010
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I have always loved Shakespeare's comedies. Why don't we get to study the comedies instead of the tragedies in school? So I jumped at the chance to have these on audio cd and I wasn't disappointed.

Twelfth Night - My favourite Shakespeare play. Viola hides as her twin brother after they are shipwrecked and each thinks the other drowns. Viola in the guise of a man is sent by Orsino to woo his lady love, Olivia. Only for Olivia to fall in love with the male Viola. Pay attention now, Viola has also fallen in love, with Orsino. Things get really complicated when Sebastian, Viola's twin, turns up and promptly falls in love with Olivia. There is a side story involving Olivia's drunken cousin and revenge on Olivia's pompous steward. This is a great adaptation well read although I couldn't help thinking that Ben Kingsley's Feste in thte film version is better than the radio version but it's still a great adaptation.

Much Ado About Nothing - This has the fabulous David Tennent as Benedict and he is brilliant but the whole story is great as the introduction tells you it is a happier version of Othello as the evil plans of the illegitimate half brother of Don Pedro come to naught and there is a happy ending but the best bit is the others all playing on vanity and making Benedict and Beatrice believe that the other is in love with them but unprepared to speak their love as the other will humiliate them. Having overheard this they are quick to admit that the quick wit and insults they chuck at each other is really hiding their real feelings of love. It's a great comic love story.

A Midsummer's Night Dream - Hermia loves Lysander and he loves her but Demetrius loves her as well as he has Hermia's father's permission to marry her but there is also Helena, Hermia's best friend and at one time object of Demetrius affection, who is still in love with Demetrius. Given a hard choice by the Duke of the city and her Father Hermia decides to run off with Lysander and they tell Helena of it. Helena tells Demetrius of this in the hope that he will realise how much Hermia loves Lysander and return to her, instead he goes after them and she goes after him. The King of the Fairy playing a trick on his wife to win a changeling from her sends Puck to put drops from a flower into the eyes of Demeterius and his Queen so that they will fall in love with the first thing they see upon waking. Except Puck puts the drops in Lysander's eyes and he falls in love with Helena and forgets Hermia. Puck also puts the drops in Demetrius' eyes. All very confusing and funny and I haven't mentioned the play being put on in honour of the Duke's wedding and the leading man getting the head of an ass and him being the first thing the Queen of the fairies sees upon waking! Brilliant hilarity.

The Taming of the Shrew - the fourth of the plays and the one I knew least. Bianca wants to marry but as the younger sister her Father refuses to let her until her older sister Kate marries. Kate is the shrew of the title. She is probably fed up with being compared to her sister who is softer and pretty. Petruchio is the man who makes Kate marry him and then proceeds to treat her shrewness with his reverse phsychology and soon has her giving way to him. Once she has forgone her shrewish ways against him he encourages her to stand up for herself and you get the idea that they do love each other even though he has tamed the shrew to the amazement of the others in the play.

I loved these plays and found myself laughing allowed as I listened to them on my ipod. Which led to me being given some very strange looks as I walked home from work! William Shakespeare has a wonderfully naughty sense of humour that still appeals several centuries later. Well worth a listen, I hope they bring out the other comedies soon.
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Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The back cover of this collection describes these versions of Shakespeare's four famous comedies as «revitalised, original, and comprehensive». These are new versions of the plays, thoughtfully directed, and the interpretation doesn't always meet with what we may have been brought up to expect. Which explains why I was surprised by Philip Jackson's interpretation of Sir Toby Belch in «Twelfth Night». His version came across as more measured, more cultured, and less bawdy. It also explains the more modern style of music in the same play.

The four comedies are: Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Some of the stars involved include David Tennant as Benedick in Much Ado, the incomparable Peter Sallis as Peter Quince in Midsummers Night, with Richard Griffths as Bottom, and Josette Simon as Olivia in Twelfth Night.

One of the aspects which really struck me about the radio versions, is how much it allows the language of Shakespeare to shine. This is most evident in Much Ado about Nothing, with the gorgeous repartee between Benedick and Beatrice, which is a fine exposition of the beauty of the language in Shakespeare. And I confess, of the four, in these productions, it is this latter play which is my favourite.

I would recommend the set for any lover of Shakespeare, it is a great opportunity to concentrate on the beauty of the spoken words. Is it worth getting these over a DVD version? Well, that depends. If you are looking at the language, then yes. I even found myself replaying sections to listen again to a particular repartee.
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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Perhaps it is because I have attended and been delighted by live performances of the Bard's wonderful works but I found myself disappointed in this Boxset. Once seen it is very difficult to go back to merely listening to Shakespeare and I unfortunately found these quite dull. Casting was of high quality, with some very big names, but it just didn't do it for me. My conclusion - I prefer to see Shakespeare rather than simply hear it.
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VINE VOICEon 20 December 2010
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Four fantastic BBC Radio versions of Shakespeare's comedies. Does what it says on the tin. Yes, as other reviewers have commented, it helps if you know the plays- Sheakespeare needs to be SEEN in performance to truly understand it. But these are cracking, strongly-cast versions, clearly enunciated, and they really bring out the beauty of the language. Life-enhancing and thrilling. If you like Shakespeare you will like these!
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VINE VOICEon 14 December 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very nicely packaged set of plays produced by the BBC in a nice slipcase, with cast and track listings for all four comedies. It's funny reviewing some Shakespeare plays as they used to be detested by me when forced to read them at at school. That probably says more about the education system than Shakespeare though. I chose the Essential Comedies as they are by far my favourites but there is also an Essential Tragedies Shakespeare: The Essential Tragedies: v. 1set that I am also quite tempted by.

This set contains:

Twelfth Night
Much Ado About Nothing
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Taming of the Shrew

These are all a lot of fun, my favourite being Much Ado About Nothing. Some people find it difficult to listen to a play , preferring a visual aspect to be part of it, and while that is also enjoyable (Shakespeare in the Park anyone?) I really enjoy listening to plays and especially the ones produced for BBC Radio which I always find to be a very high quality with some excellent actors involved.
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on 19 June 2012
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As a recent convert to all things Shakespeare, I played these hoping for a laugh (as well as appreciating the majesty of the language, of course) and while I didn't guffaw as often as I would at, say, `The IT Crowd' or `Curb Your Enthusiasm' (to name two contemporary comedies) I sat and listened for whole stretches with a wry smile on my face.

My favourite was probably `The Taming of the Shrew' with its snatches of witty wordplay and the fiery temper of the eponymous character - the shrewish Katherine, or Kate - enlivening every scene she's in.

All four plays presented here are great however - with some brilliant voice acting from many an excellent British actor and relatively unknown performer. Is there any better broadcaster of spoken material or acted plays than good old BBC radio?

Nothing dates like comedy - future generations may find any series of the great `Blackadder' pitiful - but the bard's language can never stale, and that will ensure his immortality.
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VINE VOICEon 5 September 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In order of preference, Shakespeare should be seen, read and heard. The plays rarely translate well to audio unless something innovative is done with them - which is far from the case here. In this set of radio recordings from 1998 to 2001, a scattering of big name (and not so big name) thespians, such as David Tennant playing Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, read about as well as one can be expected to when stuck inside a sound booth. Shakespeare was meant for the stage not a cupboard at the BBC.

It's difficult to fault any of these four productions within their medium for anything other than being faithful and, therefore, artistically redundant to those who've been there, done that. For students with iPods, however, they could be of value. Even then, this box set offers little in the way of value. At the time of writing, the plays are cheaper individually and the box is simplistic albeit sturdy cardboard packaging with nothing in the way of notes inside beyond the casting.
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