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Poems

Robert Donat had a rare gift for interpreting poetry, and he enjoyed reciting it throughout his life. When his health made it difficult for him to pursue acting roles, he began to record favourite poems in his home. The following poems come from a collection of these recordings, released posthumously, Robert Donat Reads Favourite Poetry at Home. It is possible to buy the poems on an LP (the original format, frequently available at ebay) or as mp3 downloads from Amazon/Audible, iTunes and other online retailers, collected together in two albums (volumes 1 & 2, Saland Publishing, 2009).

Sleeve notes from the original LP, written by John Donat, RD’s son. Click images to enlarge.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, John Keats

Bright Star, John Keats

Ode to Autumn, John Keats

On Westminster Bridge, William Wordsworth

The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi. This recording was played at RD’s memorial service

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In 1954, composer Alan Rawsthorne set six of T.S. Eliot’s poems (from The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats) in a work for speaker and orchestra entitled Practical Cats, recorded with RD as the speaker. It’s available from Amazon and other online retailers.

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Theatre

RD as Becket, with William Squire

It is possible to buy a recording of T.S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, which was made by the cast in 1953, including RD as Becket, after their acclaimed run at the Old Vic (directed by Robert Helpmann). This was RD’s final performance on stage and is widely regarded as his finest. His ovation was the longest in the Old Vic’s history.

Naxos Audiobooks re-released the 1953 recording in 2009. It is also available as a download from Amazon/Audible and other online retailers.

‘Murder in the Cathedral” revives the awesome 1953 Old Vic performance of Eliot’s play about the power struggle between Henry II and Thomas Becket, originally performed in the cathedral itself at the 1935 Canterbury Festival. In it you will hear echoes – ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’ – taken up in ‘Burnt Norton’. The cut-glass feminine vowels of the chorus annoy in the opening scenes, but persevere: this was Robert Donat’s finest performance. Christina Hardyment, The Times

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Radio

Robert Donat made many radio appearances, reading poetry, delivering Christmas broadcasts and taking part in radio dramas. Sadly, many of these recordings are not available to the public or have been lost.

One radio drama that is currently available is a recording RD made for the BBC in the 1950’s, adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic short story, Sire de Maltroit’s Door, starring RD and featuring his wife Renée Asherson. The album is entitled Classic Robert Louis Stevenson Dramas Starring Laurence Olivier and Robert Donat, Volume 1 and was released in April 2011 by Heritage Media. It’s available from Amazon/Audible.

If you are aware of any other recordings, please, please contact us!

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