The Aeneid by Virgil, adapted by Hattie Naylor from the translation by Robert Fagles

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 18-25 August 2013
An epic poem like The Aeneid is an ideal text for radio adaptation.  Through an ingenious use of sound-effects directors can not only stress the elemental aspects of the work, but stage the elemental confrontations between gods and mortals without resorting to elaborate aural effects.
In this respect, Kate McAll's production did not disappoint.  Through the use of atmospheric vocal music - written by Will Gregory and performed by the BBC Singers - she stressed the significance of Virgil's work as it dramatizes the perpetual struggle for power between gods and mortals.  At first this might to be an unequal conflict (the gods have many more weapons at their disposal), but mortals can emerge triumphant through sheer effort of will.  This was certainly the case with Aeneas (Richard Harrington), whose stoicism in the face of endless tribulations was something to be admired.  At no point did he ever consider giving up his quest.
McAll's production also stressed the link between mental and physical processes inherent in Virgil's work.  Particularly in the second episode, where Aeneas descended into the Underworld, we were made aware of the fact that impure thoughts - as well as wickednesses - could be violently punished.  The only way to avoid such pitfalls was through mental strength.
In structural terms, the narrative was sustained both by Aeneas (who revealed his thoughts to us in asides), and the Story Teller (Daniel Morden), whose  speeches were delivered in blank verse, marked by frequent alliteration and assonance.  He came across as an authoritative figure, commenting occasionally on Aeneas' behaviour, as well as offering interpretations of the action that we could trust.  Like Aeneas himself, we needed a guide through the action so as to understand its significances; the Story Teller amply fulfilled that role.
In a story like The Aeneid, there are potentially great opportunities for individual characterizations.  Like the Story Teller, Fiona Shaw's Sibyl came across as equally authoritative; if we did not keep on our intellectual guard, she could easily encourage us to empathize with her views.  Matthew Gravelle thoroughly enjoyed himself in several roles, ranging from Achates to Latinus, to Charon.  Likewise Annette Badland performed a vocal tour de force with the contrasting roles of Venus and Rhea.
It's been a long time since I've heard such a thoroughly satisfying production of a classical epic.  Congratulations to everyone involved.