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Classic serial - Plantagenet: He that plays the king...

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Jessica Dromgoole Jessica Dromgoole 13:07, Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Richard II

A portrait of Richard II

Plantagenet, alone in the great roll call of the Classic Serial, is based on a book that is almost impossible to try to get through. Holinshed Chronicles, the Elizabethan equivalent of the Ladybird Book of Kings and Queens, is a very tough and uncompromising read. Buried beneath the careful and dispassionate prose, however, are some extraordinary dramas. The death of Gaveston, Edward II's favourite, is described thus:

"When the king had knowledge hereof, hee was wonderfully diſpleaſed with thoſe Lordes that had thus put the ſayde Earle vnto death, making his vowe that he would ſee his death re|uenged: ſo that the rancour which before was kindled betwixt the king and thoſe Lords, began now to blaſe abrode, and ſpred ſo farre, that the king euer ſought occaſion howe to worke them diſpleaſure."

This gave Mike Walker enormous freedom to take these narratives his own way. In each of the three plays in this bundle - Edward I, Edward II and Richard II - he has found a story that is true both to the larger than life understanding of royalty and to the humanity of the people and relationships depicted. Which made these audio-comic-books-with-feelings enormous fun to work on.

Jessica Dromgoole is a Radio Drama producer

The company of actors

Caption: The company softly intone medieval latin to recreate the sound of Westminster Cathedral behind Edward and Margaret's wedding.

  • Episode 1: Edward the First - Old Soldiers is available to listen to on the Radio 4 website.
    Philip Jackson and Ellie Kendrick

    Caption: Philip Jackson and Ellie Kendrick kneel at the microphone together to create Edward and Margaret at prayer.

    Philip Jackson on playing Edward I:
    "He was very tall, which is not a great help on the radio, and yet physical characteristics do inform the way you play somebody even though you can't see them. So, yes, I played him as a tall man! I have rarely played kings, and this is the wonder of radio: that actors are able to do things they would not do in other media.
    I tried to assume a level of authority in the public scenes, but my favourite moments were really the more domestic scenes with Ellie Kendrick and Sam Troughton, and this is where Mike Walker's writing was superb. All three of us responded to the intimacy of these moments and we formed a strong sense of real people in real situations, and of people trying to live their lives in just as identifiable a way as in a more naturalistic, modern context."
  • Episode 2: Edward II - The Greatest Traitor
    Jeremy Mortimer, Trystan Gravelle and Hattie Morahan

    Caption: Jeremy Mortimer works on the script with Trystan Gravelle and Hattie Morahan. Hattie's skirt is a prop to create bustle when she moves, and the floor is strewn with pebbles to help recreate the sound of a beach.

    Hattie Morahan loved the challenges of playing Isabella:
    "She's known today to have been a very formidable presence in the court, but what was fun was exploring the context of her boldness. She finds herself completely isolated in the very male world of the court, and is marginalised by her husband, the King, so has to engage in political conspiracy in order to survive. She's straight-talking, tough, irreverent and passionate; a devoted mother, ruthless with her enemies and those less intelligent than herself, and eventually (though not without a fight) an impassioned and reckless lover."

  • Episode 3: Richard II - And all our Dreams will End in Death
    Patrick Kennedy and Blake Ritson

    Caption: Richard II (Patrick Kennedy) and his nemesis Henry Bolingbroke (Blake Ritson).

    Patrick Kennedy on playing Richard II:
    "The first thing that struck me once I'd got over the fact I wasn't being asked to play Shakespeare's Richard II, was how funny Mike Walker's script was. Sometimes when you get a radio script you can't help thinking it would help if they could see you but with Mike's script the voice was so strong, it was sardonic, funny and elegiac all at once and I felt it would convey all you needed. I suppose there was something about the petulant, effete, spoilt, weak, cunning little Richard that Jessica and Jeremy thought I was right for and I hope I lived up to expectations.
    Blake Ritson played his arch-rival, Henry Bolingbroke, who is "A monster. I channelled the thuggish spirit of a hundred horrid rugger buggers I encountered at school. Lord Flashheart without the charm and added sneer. The character aged over 20 years and no need for prosthetics - I love doing radio plays!"
  • Read The Guardian's Radio Review:Classic Serial - Plantagenet by Elisabeth Mahoney:
    "...There is no resisting the Classic Serial - Plantagenet (Radio 4). Mike Walker's retelling of this dynasty's story swoops you up with magnetic narration - you're gripped, even if you know how it ends - and bold production. His portrait of Edward I opened with a big, ominous dollop of music and dramatic juxtaposition of enemies..."


  • Comment number 1.

    Sweet Aunty's Burning of the Books, her retrospective cohorts might fancifully squeal in loving praises, to dispossess one of the dangerous lurk of the 'old' by means of a disparate aesthetic that somehow has this 85 years old quite ungummy with her grey stained hair safely bunned away and as free of some of the mouthings of her contemporaries as much as the bona fide liberal was always free of her. But since history is the the most plastic of the covert arts with at present more 'Shepard's Bush revelations' that the Universe has been given bounces, then Aunty must needs find herself helplessly recrunched by it to be reborn into the virtous public servant Beeby never was.

    always the gentleman

    the gent

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  • Comment number 2.

    Radio drama of the highest quality, this jumped out of the speakers - a totally great production. The blood-splattering sound effects in Burley's beheading were the best heard since Barbara Flynn copped it ("Johannes, I do not want my throat cut, I have to be stabbed. Under the breast.") in Howard Barker's The Road, The House, The Road.

    Get yer finger out, Radio 4, and put this in the drama Archive right now to be permanently available.



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