This is excellent. admittedly it's rather slow, and not the most exciting play Shakespeare ever wrote- but this audio book has tremendous charm, I've listened to it repeatedly.
It's the BBC, of course- and it shows; excellent cast and superbly produced with all those tiny sound effects- rain, a bird cry, the click of billiard balls- which one barely notices but which make it all seem real.
I remember a critic writing that he found all Samuel West's performances strangely cold. If that is true it suits the role of Richard ii, he really captures the peevish, self-pitying poetry.
I forget who plays Harry of Hereford, but he's excellent, a real feeling of vigor and action with the right degree of temper and coldness. His charismatic brute force carries along the play- and he does very well with some of the doggerel he has to spout.
The only real flaw is the sound effects- symbolic objects, such as crowns, give off a mystical vibration, which is fine for crowns. Unfortuately gauntlets also give off a peculiar sound and in the scene where everyone is throwing down their gauntlets it sounds like a row in a tin-can factory.
The other draw back is that the BBC didn't cast this and the two Henry IVs together.
This is excellent stuff- light, fast, convincing and fun. Well done to the BBC for playing it as a comedy and sliding nimbly over the moral issues. No one would argue that the attitude of the young Venetian men to Jews was a nice one- but the play needs them to be amusing company- not over blessed with brain, certainly, but young, active, in love and full of joie de vivre.
Warren Mitchell gives a thoroughly Jewish and nuanced Shylock- a comic villian with just the right edge of pathos, he really lives and breathes and burns with a growing lust for revenge. He manages the feat of growing worse and becoming more poigiant at the same time
Martin Jarvis is nicely balanced and not too self-pitying as Antonio- he is possibly a little bit too benevelent to carry off the hating of Shylock.
Samuel West (that gift to Shakespeare audio) is, of course, an excellent Bassiano- though I thought him a bit too short tempered- as if, perhaps, afraid to make a jew-hater sound too nice. Bassiano, surely, as the centre of affection in the play should be the personification of charm.
But the highlight of the recording as to be Juliet Aubrey as Portia- her marvellous low voice glides through Shakespeare's lines in a gloriously measured way- equally excellent in comedy scenes as in the court room- Oh she's marvellous, buy it just for her.
The one drawback is that they have abridged the play- not drastically, just slimmed it down here and there and changed the odd word- but it is very quick and charming and at the end one almost believes that even Shylock might live happily ever after.