Shakespeare: The Animated Tales
Act 1 - The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth
It is always good to see attempts to attract children to Shakespeare. This venture features short animated films of six Shakespeare plays, each lasting around 25 minutes and spread over 3 DVDs.
It would be interesting to know exactly how they came about, since the adaptations are written by Leon Garfield, the animations are apparently Russian and the production has come from BBC Wales, featuring the voices of many well-known actors.
The first DVD, at the real bargain price of £5.99, features a great contrast both in styles and entertainment value.
The Taming of the Shrew
For much of the time, this feels like watching Shakespeare on fast-forward. The adaptation leaves out much of the style and content and eventually comes down to just a handful of set pieces.
A relatively long introductory section featuring Christopher Sly, who could easily be cut from a full length version let alone something so short, then leads into the tale of Kate and Petruchio. However, this sketches over much of the action until the wedding scene; and then the beaten-down Katerina's final test when her obedience does down her peers.
The visual style of the animation suggests that this film is aimed at very small children. The plasticine-type characters all have large heads and silly expressions so that we are far more in the land of Noddy than that of Shakespeare.
At least the quality of the filming is top notch and very colourful. This means that tiny children will not realise that they are being indoctrinated but might even have some fun along the way.
This film is as entertaining as Shrew was flat. It features cartoon characters that make Brian Cox's Scottish-accented Macbeth into a dark, malevolent superhero, while his even less pleasant wife (spoken by Zoë Wanamaker) looks rather as if she had stepped into Scotland from outer space.
With the narration of Alec McCowan, the tale flies along. We see three evil and other-worldly witches predicting kingship for the warrior and soon enough, King Duncan finds his way to a bloody death. He is the first of very many in such a short period of time that it is practically a murder a minute; but that is part of the fun of this film.
It races through the play but still has time for much of the drama and rather more surprisingly, at least a flavour of the poetry and soliloquies.
Even so, much of the story is there, if in a rather simplified for. Any blood-thirsty boys, at least, who are given this DVD, could well be running round the school playground seeing daggers before them and playing at Macbeth for weeks to come.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher