I rarely bother with Radio 4’s Classic Serial, being more interested in original drama than derivative dramatisations and not at all interested in brutal hack jobs on great literature. Knocking a novel of 300 pages or more down to two hours is pure vandalism.
I have never, however, read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy and was attracted by the fact that The History of Titus is a six-episode, and therefore six-hour undertaking.
It is superb. Brian Sibley, an authority on Peake who assisted Peake’s widow with the unfinished Titus Awakes, has maintained the rackety sprawl of Peake’s characters and, despite inevitable cuts and compressions, keeps up a strong dramatic pace. Jeremy Mortimer’s production is an object lesson in the radiophonic arts and some of the acting – most of the acting – is exceptional. Paul Rhys’s agonised howl at the burnt ruins of Sepulchrave’s beloved library scoured the soul.
So this is the perfect example of a BBC Classic Serial. It works within its own terms as a highly successful drama and it prompts the listener to get hold of the original forthwith.