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Good, but better if you've seen them already
on 10 December 2010
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.