Shakespeare: The Animated Tales 3
Hamlet and The Tempest
The Russian animators behind this series decided to portray the story of Hamlet by means of drawings painted on glass. Occasionally, this creates beautiful effects but far too often, it suffers from both a lack of colour and movement.
This means that a play, which might anyway be dark and turgid, seems far more so, particularly as Hamlet, given voice by Nicholas Farrell, is frequently seen in gloomy freeze-frame.
The story is raced through so that the final joust to the multiple death can be seen in all of its glory. As a result, those who do not know the plot will pick up little of it, although some of the set-piece speeches (for example "To be or not to be" and "Alas Poor Yorick") are there, at least in part.
Many of the relatively minor characters are missing completely or only seen in the distance so that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern disappear without trace as do Osric and assorted Norwegians.
Strangely, those that are best realised are the past and future kings, the Ghost in full armour and Claudius soon allowing triumphalism to give way to guilt.
At times it seems if Michael Kitchen the Narrator has almost as large a part as anyone else, including the eponymous prince in this 25 minutes dash through of a drama that typically takes four hours and needs longer to do itself justice.
The BBC has saved the best until last in this series of short Shakespearean cartoons.
The puppets used on this occasion mix the human with the magical and in particular Ariel, voiced by Ella Hood, is both charming and terrifying by turns.
This is where animators can really score over directors who are restricted to using human actors. While much of the activity on Prospero's Island is realistic, Caliban, played by Alun Armstrong, can be made into a cheerily inhuman monster, while Ariel, usually a sliver of a sprite also takes on monstrous form when the baddies need to be scared off.
Timothy West is a rather genial Prospero, who happily looks on as his daughter, Katie Behean's Miranda, goes boy crazy over shipwrecked Ferdinand (Jonathan Tafler). He is less happy however, when he toys with and mentally tortures the men who banished him from his homeland.
Leon Garfield's adaptation, narrated by one of our very best audio broadcasters Martin Jarvis, gets the balance absolutely right so that most elements of the play are brought out in less than 25 minutes of enjoyable action.
Eventually, all is made well with the world, Prospero is restored to his rightful dukedom and the young couple will inevitably live happily ever after. What a great way to end the series.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher