Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hamlet (Classic Radio Theatre).

Fans of radio history will love the opening moments of this welcome release of John Tydeman’s long deleted Hamlet, as an RP voice from a man you can tell just from the tone of his voice is wearing DG announces that what we're about to hear is “a new stereophonic production” and that “the play will be presented in two parts with an intermission after approximately an hour and forty-minutes”. The listener is sent right back to the cold Halloween night in 1971 when this first broadcast just before seven o’clock, perhaps tucked up in front of the gas fire, the single source of heat in the house, ears glued to the radiogram as the ghostly tragedy unfolded.

The highlight is quite rightly Ronald Pickup as the Dane. The BBC’s publicity of the time suggested he was that generation’s Hamlet (source), and although that’s perhaps overstating things (there were a lot of them about in the early seventies) gives us a prince that flip-flap-flops between controlled sanity in public and genuine madness – sparked by the news of his father’s death – in private. He’s as pleasant as Cary Grant in North By Northwest and it’s this geniality, inconsistent with his usual personality, which attracts the curiosity of the other palace inhabitants, Pickup able to communicate in audio the mask which never slips in public.

The rest of the cast is filled out with a range of experienced stage and radio actors. Martin Jarvis’s Horatio has an unusual independence, loyal to Hamlet but leading his own life. The most disconcerting performance is from Robert Lang, the timbre of whose voice sounds almost but not exactly like Jacobi. Angela Pleasance (Donald’s daughter best known at the time for playing Catherine Howard in The Six Wives of Henry VIII) is an initially extremely aristocratic Ophelia whose tip into psychosis is chilling, her voice skipping restlessly through the listener's ears, breaking through indiscriminate emotions by the second.

Spreading a full length production of the second quarto across three cds, the crisp sound quality, a brilliant contrast from the earlier cassette version released in 1998, highlights the experimental nature of this early stereo which attempts to mimic the experience of being in a theatre rather than the more intimate atmosphere of later radio production in which the actor’s voice is pressed close to the speaker. The music is provided by Malcolm Clarke of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, best known amongst some of us for his experimental scoring of Doctor Who episodes, and his electronic twang is well utilised to mimic the pipes of Fortinbras’s army.

Hamlet (Classic Radio Theatre) is published by AudioGo. RRP: £16.34 ISBN: 978-1408467251. Review copy supplied.

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