The Essential Shakespeare – Live

The RSC announces the launch of a fascinating new resource – a 2 CD set containing extracts from some of their more memorable productions. They’ll be reviewed here shortly; in the meantime, here’s what they have to say about it . . .

The Royal Shakespeare Company and British Library launch first CD set featuring
live recordings

A two CD set, The Essential Shakespeare Live, features scenes from Royal Shakespeare Company performances from 1959 to 2003, recorded by the British Library Sound Archive. The extracts are personally selected by RSC Associate Director Gregory Doran. The set is made commercially available for the first time on Wednesday 26 October 2005.

The CDs cover a period of over four decades of Shakespeare performances including the earliest live Royal Shakespeare Company recording held by the British Library Sound Archive – Peter Hall’s Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier at Stratford-upon-Avon, in April, 1959, recorded by then stage manager Hal Rogers. Paul Scofield can be hear in an excerpt from Peter Brook’s King Lear at the Aldwych Theatre in 1964 and Judi Dench in All’s Well that Ends Well in 2002.

Other celebrated productions included in the collection are the now legendary Wars of the Roses from 1963 and John Barton’s Richard II with Richard Pasco and Ian Richardson. Actors represented include Peggy Ashcroft, Alan Howard, Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen, Alan Rickman, Antony Sher, Donald Sinden, Robert Stephens, Patrick Stewart, Janet Suzman, David Oyelowo and David Warner.

Gregory Doran enjoyed the challenge of listening to the archive recordings and putting the CDs together: ‘I felt a sense of privilege at being able to listen to performances I had heard so much about, but never imagined would be able to experience. Theatre is a transitory art. That is its essence. It vanishes into thin air. But here it has been snatched back. The British Library has been recording Royal Shakespeare Company productions live in performance for nearly five decades. The ones I have chosen are just a few extracts from some of my personal favourites.’

All of the recordings needed some treatment or processing to make them suitable for publication. In the words of Nigel Bewley, British Library Sound Archive technician, ‘To remove all of the apparent blemishes or unwanted artefacts would be impossible, and even if it were it would be undesirable. When making a recording of a live performance we consider our microphones to be the ears of a member of the audience sitting “in the best seat in the house” and we document the entire event, including the performances of the actors and musicians as well as the audience reaction. To remove or reduce every vestige of an audience’s presence would have resulted in something anodyne or sterile ‘

Here’s what some of the performers think::

Dame Judi Dench (Countess Rossillion in Gregory Doran’s All’s Well that Ends Well – 2003)

‘Gregory Doran has put together a simply sensational series of extracts. It’s incredibly moving to hear some of our greatest actors performing Shakespeare.’

David Oyelowo (King Henry VI in RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd’s Henry VI Part 3 – 2001)

‘There is joy and sadness in the fact that, as a theatre actor, your toil on that stage will live on only in people’s hearts and minds. Not only do I feel honoured to be heard alongside the actors who inspired me to become an actor, but I am also excited at the prospect of hearing what all the fuss was about.’

Sir Antony Sher (Richard III in Bill Alexander’s Richard III – 1985)

‘They say that part of the magic of Theatre is that it is transitory, it exits in the present, and then it is gone forever. But there is also magic in discovering that we can retrieve some of it, hear some of it again. I have found it amazing to listen to certain extracts from this CD – like Olivier’s Coriolanus and Scofield’s Lear. Performances that I missed and thought would never experience. And now I can. It’s like uncovering hidden treasure. Thrilling.’

If you want to buy the CD on-line, go to the RSC’s website – .

2005-10-26 08:34:30

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