William Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the son of a successful and popular painter. Collins himself demonstrated some artistic talent and had a painting hung in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1849, but his real passion was for writing. On leaving school, he worked in the office of a tea merchant in the Strand but hated it. He left and read law as a student at Lincoln's Inn but already his writing career was flowering. His first novel, Antonina, was published in 1850. In 1851, the same year that he was called to the bar, he met and established a lifelong friendship with Charles Dickens. While Collins' fame rests on his best known works, The Woman in White and The Moonstone, he wrote over thirty books, as well as numerous short stories, articles and plays. He was a hugely popular writer in his lifetime. Collins was an unconventional individual: he never married but established long term liaisons with two separate households. He died in 1889.
Playwright and audio dramatist Beverley Cooper has done a masterful job in adapting Collins's classic Victorian suspense novel to the audio medium. Within the framing story of a courtroom setting, each character stands up to describe the events that he or she has witnessed; the words of testimony then fade into a flashback scene, so the listener can experience the story as it unfolds. The actors are simply marvelous, particularly Douglas Campbell as the oily, sinister Count Fosco and Cedric Smith as Lord Percival Glyde, the manipulative gold digger with secrets to hide. Suzanne Hoffman sounds appropriately sweet and lovely as Laura, the damsel in distress, and Gina Wilkinson gives a nice contrasting performance as her practical, intelligent and down-to-earth sister, Marian. The story is well paced and suspenseful, while background music adds a subtly ominous atmosphere without distracting from the tale. Likewise, the production uses just the right amount of sound effects. With its colorful characters and air of mystery, this superb dramatization truly does the tale justice. (Dec.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.