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Hamlet, Revenge!, a radio play



Adapted by Betty Lambert for radio, this Michael Innes mystery involves a murder during a stage performance of Hamlet. Not to mention spies searching for a precious document, an unusually large hat (and skull), and 27 possible suspects. As one of the characters states: "Giles, it's impossible. There are too many suspects!" Indeed, the adaptation process was probably as complex as the search for the killer. Giles Gott, a mystery writer who uses a pseudonym, comes up with a too-perfect theory to solve the mystery. But is it correct? After many murders, and several false accusations later, the truth is finally revealed.


CBC "Tuesday Night", January 23, 19??, directed by Gerald Newman, with Derek Ralston, Roy Brinson, Walter Marsh, Shirley Clothier, Robert Clothier, Peter Ajello, Marlene Dixon, Frank Crowson, Eric Schneider, Peter Haworth, Lee Taylor, Lillian Carlson, John White, Ivor Harries, Barbara Tremaine, and Jack Ammon.


"...not only a fascinating murder mystery in itself but also a technical accomplishment for playwright and producer." - undated article.

About the Play

That I adapted Hamlet, Revenge! at all was, literally, a mistake. I had just discovered Michael Innes’ murder mysteries and, in my enthusiasm, I made a rather formidable error. I said to Gerald Newman, “I would like to adapt one of this man’s books. He’s really marvellous. Here, for a start, read this.” And I gave him Hamlet, Revenge!, thinking to whet his appetite for The Journeying Boy—the book I really wanted to do—but Gerald, who immediately liked Hamlet, Revenge!, insists to this day that what I actually said was, “I would like to adapt this book.”

When I met Michael Innes, who is really John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, Reader at Christ Church College, Oxford, literary critic, Shakespeare scholar and serious novelist in his own right, he said, “Whatever did you choose Hamlet, Revenge! for? I should have thought it impossible to make into a radio play.” When—having been commissioned to adapt the wrong book—I finally sat down to try to sort out that complicated interweaving of plots, sub-plots, red herrings, and almost thirty murder suspects, I realized that he was absolutely right. It was—simply, and not to overstate the case—impossible.

To begin with, you have a murder committed on stage, in the middle of an amateur production of Hamlet: there are three hundred people in the banqueting-hall-cum-theatre, any one of whom could be in the murder conspiracy. The purely technical problem of all those voices was enough to make a radio writer shudder. It’s hard enough for a listener to keep four or five voices straight, let alone the twenty-one I finally cut the cast to. And, to make the difficulties even more hilarious, the central characters in the story proper have also to double as the central characters in Hamlet, for the unravelling of the mystery depends to some extent upon an understanding not only of that play but of the historical critical approach to Shakespeare.

What I had to do was abandon any attempt to present the mystery as such. All I could hope for was the sense of Scamnum Court, the aristocratic country house to which the Lord Chancellor of England had come to play at Polonius and in which, as Polonius, he had been most foully murdered. “Scamnum” derives from a word meaning “shambles” and it was shambles I had to present…the disorder, chaos, fruit-cake multiplicity of murder. What this meant was taking the murder itself as a pivot point and letting everybody think and talk about that event as best or as misleadingly as he could. I gave up any effort to imply a chronological or even logical sequence of events. And the effect of this was a “technique” (I italicize the word because I never once thought of it in that way. I felt rather that, given the story, this was the only way to tell it.) which is a little like the movie technique of cutting, without logical explanation, from one character, one scene, or one time to another. What this does in a radio play is eliminate any obvious bridge effects: that is, there are no pauses between “scenes”; no fade-in-fade-out’s; no music to show that we are now passing from the garden to the bedroom of the Duchess; and, in most cases, not even those tried and true radio clues such as the crowing of a rooster to show that It Is Now Morning. What Gerald had to do to accomplish this sort of chron-illogical radio play is, I’m afraid, beyond me. There was talk of establishing different acoustical backgrounds which, hopefully, would subliminally convince the listener’s ear, but the process took place in that sanctum to which I have never been invited—The Studio. I do not feel that the script itself is too starling a departure from what has been done before in films and novels. Poets too, I believe, have begun to use this sort of fish-net narrative style. Perhaps it is rather more like a cobweb, with all the reactions, motives, individual world-views, radiating out from a common centre—but inextricably linked one with the others. Whatever “new” occurs in this radio play occurs because Gerald Newman has attempted to produce the play as I wrote it; the problems of the technique, and the realization that in fact the script called for a new kind of radio production, were all his.

-Betty Lambert

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