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An 18th-Century Comedy Album

Dame Edith Evans
Classics for Pleasure
£5.99
(2007)

This CD could reasonably be regarded as a selection from Dame Edith Evans' Greatest Hits. The original Columbia Records recording was made at Abbey Road Studios in 1954, to capitalise on the popularity of one of the greatest actresses of the last century.

Over half of the running time of this disc consists of extracts from Congreve's The Way of the World, in which Dame Edith plays Millamant opposite John Gielgud's Mirabell. This is perhaps the ideal coupling for an audio recording, since both had distinctive and arguably beautiful voices. They also spark well off each other, as their characters comically do their best to achieve financially worthwhile marriages.

We get three separate sections plus an epilogue and they whet the appetite wonderfully. It seems a pity that so far, Classics for Pleasure have not chosen to offer us a recording of the whole play, assuming that one exists.

In just under quarter-of-an-hour from Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem, the Dame plays Mrs Sullen who wishes to get involved in sexual shenanigans, aided and abetted by her half sister-in-law Dorinda, played by Pauline Jameson.

Arguably the finest of these pieces is the extract from Sheridan's The Rivals in which Mrs Malaprop, who is one of those rare fictional characters to give her name to a noun, is bettered several times over by Captain Absolute, voiced by a very witty Anthony Quayle. In this case, our actress is a silly old duffer who dismally fails to protect her ward from this very unsuitable suitor, despite choice use of (wrong) words.

Finally, there is the epilogue from The School for Scandal, the full length version of which is also available in this series and was reviewed late last year.

This CD would make a pleasant little gift but, in offering short extracts rather than whole plays, tends to get one warmed up and then frustrated at not being able to listen to more. In any event, the chance to hear Dame Edith Evans in various different comic modes assuredly makes these recordings real Classics for Pleasure.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher