A 2CD set of extracts from live RSC performances
Produced from the British Library Sound Archive in association with RSC
Available from shops and RSC website (www. rsc. org, uk)

A joy, a complete joy.
I approached these CDs with excitement tempered with a degree of trepidation – the latter stemming from listening to recordings of Shakespeare Plays in my youth that nearly put me off the real thing for life. But I needn’t have worried, in truth they are a joy, a compete joy, from start to finish.

There’s a marvellous range in them; a range in time � they span four decades � and a range of plays. There are the famous bits, of course, like ‘To be or not to be . . . ‘ (David Warner, Dir Peter Hall, 1966), but the collection is more than merely ‘best bits of Shakespeare.’

Plays are meant to be seen; so although we miss ‘seeing’, the CDs gain a great deal from the fact they were recorded live. There is an element of immediacy about the extracts which places you back among the audience.

Moreover, audience laughter is infectious reaching from the CD to bring a smile to your face. Listen, for instance, to Roger Rees’s and Michael Williams’s geography lesson from COMEDY OF ERRORS about the woman chasing Dromio of Syraceuse: ‘And where stood Belgia, the Netherlands? / Oh, sir, I did not look so low.’ (Dir Trevor Nunn, 1977)

But the laughter also works in darker moments, for instance Antony Sher’s superbly dark, cocky, play-acting, highly intelligent Richard III: ‘Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?/ Was ever woman in this humour won? / I’ll have her; but I will not keep her long./ What!’ The last word is squeaked out and the speech comes like a lightning bolt from the blue. (Dir Bill Alexander, 1985) With Penny Downie’s Lady Anne, the scene is still electric.

Speaking of which . . . I was pottering about my kitchen when I first started listening to the collection. Until, that is, I heard Peggy Ashcroft’s Queen Margaret: ‘Ay, marry, sirs, now looks he like a king! / This is he that took King Henry’s chair, . . . ‘ (WARS OF THE ROSES, Dir Peter Hall/ John Barton, 1964). Her passion throughout the scene brought me up short; I had to stop and listen. I’d challenge anyone to carry on ironing while listening to this!

There isn’t single extract among these I’d wish to do without (the selection was made by Gregory Doran) but two other favourites . . .

First, Patrick Stewart, Cassius, and John Wood, Brutus, in JULIUS CAESAR (Dir Trevor Nunn, 1973). There is such a beautifully clear delineation between these two characters. Stewart’s Cassius is no-nonsense, soldierly, up-front and hotly passionate in his unhappiness, Wood so effortlessly aristocratic, distanced, weighing each word almost, torn apart by inner tensions.

Second, Janet Dale and Lindsay Duncan (Page and Ford, MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, Dir Bill Alexander, 1986). They are simply outrageous, make it sound as if it were written yesterday and, most importantly, have me laughing over and over again.

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2005-10-30 14:38:20

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