CD Review: The Essential Shakespeare Live, by the Royal Shakespeare Company

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During my recent Shakespeare week, I spent a bit of time browsing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s shop. They sell books, DVDs, programs, mugs, pencils and posters. But they also have a handful of audio recordings. They have several of the Arkangel full-cast Shakespeare recordings, and some sets by Naxos Audiobooks, but they also had two 2-disc sets of recordings from the RSC.

Made up of live recordings of RSC performances, each of the sets includes excerpts from a number of plays, from 1959 through 2008. They feature a wide range of actors, from Paul Robeson in Othello to David Tennant in Hamlet, by way of Ian Richardson, Ben Kinglsey, Ian Holm, David Suchet, Peggy Ashcroft, Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen, Alan Rickman, Anthony Sher, Patrick Stewart, Janet Suzman, Jonathan Pryce, Harriet Walter, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen.

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Recording quality is variable. These are all “audience” recordings, made live, so you can hear the audience laughing and coughing, but that does not detract from the quality of the material. If anything, it makes it more realistic. (The Arkangel and Naxos recordings I mentioned earlier are studio recordings.)

There are two sets: The Essential Shakespeare Live (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) and The Essential Shakespeare Live Encore (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). If you’re a Shakespeare fan, or if you’re an actor, and are interested in hearing how great actors have performed the plays over the past six decades, these sets are both very interesting to listen to. Note that each set includes a book with the texts that are spoken.

Here are the tracklists:

The Essential Shakespeare Live

DISC ONE
1 Othello [1959] (featuring Paul Robeson)
2 Henry IV Part 1 [1964] (featuring Ian Holm)
3 The Winter’s Tale [1971] (featuring Judi Dench)
4 A Midsummer Night’s Dream [1972] (featuring Ben Kingsley)
5 Love’s Labour’s Lost [1975] (featuring Ian Richardson)
6 The Merchant of Venice [1981] (featuring David Suchet)
7 Measure for Measure [1984] (featuring Juliet Stevenson)
8 Macbeth [1987] (featuring Jonathan Pryce)
9 Much Ado about Nothing [1991] (featuring Roger Allam)
10 Troilus and Cressida [1991] (featuring Simon Russell Beale)
11 The Two Gentlemen of Verona [1992] (featuring Richard Moore)

DISC TWO
1 Henry VIII (All is True) [1996] (featuring Ian Hogg)
2 Timon of Athens [1999] (featuring Michael Pennington)
3 King John [2001] (featuring Trevor Cooper)
4 Pericles [2002] (featuring Roger Frost)
5 The Taming of the Shrew [2003] (featuring Ian Gelder)
6 Cymbeline [2003] (featuring Emma Fielding)
7 Antony and Cleopatra [2006] (featuring Patrick Stewart)
8 King Lear [2007] (featuring Ian McKellen)
9 Henry V [2008] (featuring Geoffrey Streatfeild)
10 Hamlet [2008] (featuring David Tennant)

The Essential Shakespeare Live Encore

DISC ONE
1. Coriolanus (featuring Laurence Olivier)
2. Wars of the Roses (featuring Peggy Ashcroft)
3. King Lear [1964] (featuring Paul Scofield)
4. Hamlet (featuring David Warner)
5. Twelfth Night (featuring Donald Sinden)
6. Julius Caesar (featuring Patrick Stewart)
7. Antony and Cleopatra (featuring Janet Suzman)
8. Richard II (featuring Richard Pasco & Ian Richardson)
9. Romeo and Juliet (featuring Ian McKellen & Francesca Annis)

DISC TWO
1. Henry V (featuring Emrys James)
2. Henry V (featuring Alan Howard)
3. Comedy of Errors (featuring Roger Rees)
4. The Tempest (featuring Derek Jacobi & Mark Rylance)
5. Richard III (featuring Antony Sher)
6. As You Like It (featuring Alan Rickman)
7. The Merry Wives of Windsor (featuring Janet Dale)
8. Titus Andronicus (featuring Brian Cox)
9. Henry IV Part 1 (featuring Robert Stephens)
10. Henry VI Part 3 (featuring David Oyelowo)
11. All’s Well that Ends Well (featuring Judi Dench)

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