Princely pickings proffer the best Will in the world

10th November 1995 at 00:00
Once more into the breach goes Prince Charles, this time not lecturing on the teaching of English, or even on the architecture of the nation, but brandishing a selection of Shakespeare's greatest hits.

This predictable collection of the most famous snippets of the Bard's plays, performed on CD and tape by some of the nation's finest actors, will provide a welcome relief for grannies who have been wondering what to buy 15-year-old Simon for Christmas.

The two CDs or four tapes are complemented by The Prince's Choice, a discreet hardback volume containing the selected scenes and monologues. Despite criticisms that Shakespeare's plays need to be appreciated whole, and on the stage, the anthology is bound to be seen as A Good Thing, certainly a more wholesome stocking filler than the computer game Mortal Kombat. And the profits will go to the Prince's Trust.

Venerable actors like Glenda Jackson, Alec McCowen, Antony Sher, Richard Briers, the late Paul Eddington and Maggie Smith are joined by newcomer HRH The Prince of Wales, who was persuaded to play Shakespeare's Prince of Wales, Prince Hal, opposite Sir Robert Stephens' Falstaff. That would be tough for anyone, and despite Prince Charles' natural empathy for the role, he does not sound wholly at ease. "I would urge him not to give up his day job," said one teacher.

The project turns out to be the brainchild of Sir Robert, urged on by the publishers Hodder and Stoughton. The extracts are set out by theme: Extraordinary People and Exceptional Language ("Is this a dagger which I see before me?"); All Sorts and Conditions of Men ("Now is the winter of our discontent"); Humour ("I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer"); The Darker Side ("To be or not to be"); Public Life and Leadership ("Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown"); The Country ("This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle") and Music and Acting ("If music be the food of love, play on").

Glenda Jackson, who made a brief return to acting from politics to play Cleopatra, said of the anthology: "What is important to remember with something like The Prince's Choice is that the Songs From the Shows, as it were, are not the show itself, but at least with the spoken word the listener's imagination is unleashed."

Some English teachers may be permanently hostile to Prince Charles for his harsh words about their performance a few years ago. But Rex Gibson, director of the Shakespeare in Schools Project, said: "Anything which makes Shakespeare more accessible to more school students is a splendid idea. There's always the problem with extracts that you don't get a sense of the play, but I see Shakespeare as a very free market in which all comers are welcome."

But Mr Gibson was disappointed to learn that King Lear's Fool did not feature. "I have always felt Prince Charles is in far less need of a Falstaff than a Lear's Fool," he said. "We all need a Lear's Fool, but Kings and princes more than most need someone to speak the truth directly and uncomfortably".

The Prince's Choice, hardback Pounds 12.99, cassettes Pounds 12.99, CDs Pounds 19.99.

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