Editor's note: The Count of Monte Cristo is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from Sunday 25th November. It has been adapted for radio by Sebastian Baczkiewicz. The following blog was written by the producers Jeremy Mortimer and Sasha Yevtushenko. - CM.
The cast of The Count of Monte Cristo (Toby Jones, Paul Rhys, Iain Glen and Zubin Varla)
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, laid down the rule that every tragedy, properly constructed, should contain but one catastrophe and should take place over the span of a single day. Alexandre Dumas, when he came to start work on The Count of Monte Cristo, wasn't having any of that. He delivered the catastrophe - the cataclysm of vengeance wreaked by Edmond Dantes on his miserable antagonists - but spread the action of the novel over a period of twenty-nine years. That's how long it takes from the day that Edmond sails into Marseilles, at the helm of the trading ship 'The Phaeron' and all set to announce his forthcoming marriage to the beautiful Mercedes, until he leaves France for good having blasted his way through the cream of respectable Parisian society.
But perhaps Dumas did take a leaf out of Aristotle's book, because the seeds of the drama are indeed sown in the course of that single day in Marseilles, the twenty-fourth of February 1815. On that day, galled by Edmond's success and by his happiness, his rival for the captaincy of The Phaeron, Danglars, and his rival in love, Fernand de Morcerf, hatch a plot with the drunkard Caderousse that marks Edmond out as a potential traitor to the crown, and results in his fourteen-year imprisonment in the fortress of the Chateau D'If.
Jane Lapotaire with writer Sebastian Baczkiewicz
The pain and anguish of those fourteen years, during which time Dantes tunnels his way out of his cell and makes contact with a fellow prisoner, Abbe Faria, is the matter of the first hundred or so pages of Dumas' book. But Sebastian Baczkiewicz, in this new radio dramatisation, chose to start the story at the moment that Dantes makes his daring, and almost suicidal escape from the Chateau D'If.
In this new dramatisation, the story really gets going as Edmond returns to life in a new world. A world in which almost a decade has passed since Napoleon's escape from Elba, the battle of Waterloo, and final capture. A world in which Edmond Dantes can assume his new identity as the Count of Monte Cristo, and can begin to put in place the final catastrophe that lies at the heart of his drama-packed story.
Our new radio production of The Count of Monte Cristo probably started when we realised we shared a passion for Dumas' great novel, and approached Radio 4 to see if we could convince them to let us produce it as a four-part Classic Serial.
And so it was that, in early Summer 2011, in a meeting room overlooking the Thames in the BBC's now de-commissioned building Bush House, we met with writer Sebastian Baczkiewicz and began plotting our approach. Chief amongst the challenges was how to squeeze Dumas' 1200-page book into four hours of radio time. However, Sebastian had form in this department (together with Lin Coghlan, he had adapted Victor Hugo's colossus Les Miserables for radio), so we knew the project was in safe hands. It was Sebastian who hit upon the idea of using Haydee, the daughter of the Sultan Ali Pasha and a member of The Count's household, as our story-teller - to guide us through the story's shifts in time, its sometimes labyrinthine plot and large retinue of characters.
Sebastian worked on the scripts throughout the autumn of 2011 and early 2012, whilst somehow also managing to find time to deliver new instalments of his original drama series Pilgrim (also for Radio 4). By May 2012, the scripts were ready and Sebastian's work was done. It was then that Jeremy contacted composers David Tobin and Jeff Meegan, through the musical catalogue outfit Audio Network, and asked whether they would be interested in creating original music for our production. After reading the now finished scripts, they identified key themes and characters in the story and set about creating musical motifs. Mercedes' Lament, for example, captures the cruel separation of young lovers Dantes and Mercedes, and the sense of loss that haunts them ever after. Imprisoned is the music we associate with Dantes' fourteen year imprisonment at the Chateau D'If and the desire for revenge that his confinement engenders.
We began casting in late August 2012, about five weeks before we were due to record. It was a delight to find that the actors we had in mind for the roles responded so well to the scripts and, crucially, were available for our dates. Recording began on September 25th, with a cast of twenty-five actors reading through the first two episodes, and then straight into the studio in Broadcasting House - recording 145 scenes over the following seven days, and the entirety of Haydee's narration on the eighth day.
With the brilliant studio manager Colin Guthrie at the helm, we spent a further two weeks in October weaving together the dramatized scenes with the narration and music. Eighteen months on from our original proposal to Radio 4, The Count of Monte Cristo was finished at last.
The Count of Monte Cristo was directed and produced by Jeremy Mortimer and Sasha Yevtushenko.
The Count of Monte Cristo is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from Sunday 25th November. All four episodes will be available after broadcast via the Radio 4 website until Sunday 23rd December.