Classic theatre on air

28th March 1997 at 00:00
Oedipus the King Radio 3 Sunday March 30, 7.30-9.00pm

Oedipus at Colonus Radio 3 Sunday March 30, 9.00-10.00pm

The Sound of Masks Radio 3 Tuesday April 1-Friday April 4, 9.25pm

Look Back in Anger by John Osborne BBC World Service Saturday March 29, 10.30pm (repeated Sunday, March 30, 6.30 and 7.30pm)

Ashes to Ashes by Harold Pinter BBC World Service Saturday April 5, 11. 30pm (repeated Sunday April 6, 6.30am and 7.30pm)

BBC Radio's Easter is strong on classic plays - ancient and modern. Peter Hall's Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus are broadcast consecutively on Easter Sunday. They are followed later in the week by a related series about the use of masks in the theatre. There are also notable productions of works by two great modern playwrights, John Osborne and Harold Pinter.

Oedipus the King is the centrepiece. Ranjit Bolt has produced a text that has the great merit of sounding lean and forceful. The slow building of the tragedy is beautifully orchestrated, and there are powerful performances from Greg Hicks as Tirosias and Suzanne Bertish as Jocasta. Alan Howard as Oedipus is riveting as he moves from kingly certainty and confidence to doubt, insecurity and, ultimately, terror.

Oedipus at Colonus is simpler, almost domestic, as the former king ekes out his exile with his two daughters and faces new terrors before finally achieving a kind of peace. Nervy, timeless music by Judith Weir adds to the tragic strangeness of both plays.

The series The Sound of Masks begins on the Tuesday after Easter and runs for four 15-minute episodes. The programmes are full of insights. A mask in the Greek theatre, it turns out, has to be rigid rather than flexible. If it isn't, the space between the mask and the actor's face will not add resonance to the voice.

On Easter Saturday, you can catch a World Service production of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger. It is a landmark worth revisiting. Part of the History of British Theatre season, this production has Douglas Hodge as Jimmy the Eloquent and Tara Fitzgerald as his victimwife Alison. The cast also includes Peter Jeffrey and Stella Gonet.

A week later, also on the World Service, there's a chance to hear Harold Pinter's latest play, the two-hander Ashes to Ashes. Pinter himself directs Lindsay Duncan and Stephen Rea as two characters whose talk is both beautiful and shocking and whose relationship is mysterious.

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