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Recordings of plays

Am I the only one who enjoys hearing plays? Given that plays broadcast on radio still have an audience, I’d guess not. Back in the 50s and 60s, an enterprising company called Caedmon made audio recordings of many classic plays, including most (possibly all – I’m not sure) of the plays of Shakespeare. Currently, Harper Collins owns the Caedmon catalogue. It had released some of the Shakespeare recordings on audio-cassette, but obviously didn’t feel it worthwhile releasing them on CD, given the competition from the two series currently being released by BBC and by Naxos. While the BBC and the Naxos series are both superb (the ones I’ve heard, at least), I do hope that we won’t have to wait too long for Harper Collins to release the Caedmon Shakespeare recordings: it would be a shame to lose (amongst others) Paul Scofield’s Hamlet and Lear, Anthony Quayle’s Falstaff (he reprised that role in the BBC Shakespeare now available on DVD), Vanessa Redgrave’s Rosalind, John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft as Beatrice and Benedick, Gielgud’s Angelo, Leontes and Richard II, and Alan Bates (an actor I hadn’t previously rated that highly) surprisingly good as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.

And while I’m at it, it would be good also to see available on CD some of the recordings made in the 60s by the Marlowe Society: Richard Johnson  and Irene Worth as Antony and Cleopatra, Richard Johnson (again) as Othello, and, especially, Dorothy Tutin as Viola, deserves pride of place on the shelves of any self-respecting Shakespearean. (I know Richard Johnson also appeared in Zombie Flesh Eaters, but somehow it’s not quite the same…)

As well as Shakespeare, Caedmon recorded some more modern drama, and, until recently, I had given up all hope of hearing them again. However, last weekend, I found in my post an early birthday present from my brother (early because Harper Collins delivered much quicker than they say on their website) – CDs of an audio recording of a very favourite play of mine, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, in a virtually uncut text, and featuring Geraldine Fitzgerald, Robert Ryan, Stacey Keach and James Naughton – in other words, about as fine a cast as could be assembled.

So last Saturday night, once everyone else had retired to bed (including my wife who did not feel up to “three hours of doom and gloom”), I stayed downstairs and listened to it all. The play is emotionally draining: the cumulative effect of those three hours is shattering. Why is it, I wonder, that I feel so close to this particular play? Why does this particular work affect me so very powerfully?

I shall post some notes on this play (and on this particular performance) when I find a bit of time. But it is very heartening that this sort of thing is being made available at last on CD: hopefully, there is more to follow. In the meantime, if anyone would like to recommend here further recordings of plays (either on CD or DVD), please feel free to do so.

I look forward to reading your thoughts on Long Day's Journey into Night, having recently got around to watching the marvellous film at last. Sidney Lumet really is the ideal director for this kind of thing, and what a tremendous array of performances. I must read the play. Reading plays is something I intend to do more of in the future.

I don't listen to plays regularly, but one recording I never tire of is the 1963 BBC production of Under Milk Wood narrated by Richard Burton and featuring the likes of Hugh Griffith, Talfryn Thomas etc. Its poetry will never fade. I'm not sure why I don't have the original 1954 recording, which features the young Rachel Roberts among others. I presume it's available.

It is. Incidentally, I discover now that the foundation of Caedmon Records was inspired by a desire to release a recording of the voice of Dylan Thomas.

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