9 posts categorized "Rehearsed readings" Feed

My 10 favourite things about the #Iliadlive reading at the British Museum and Almeida

Iliad cast & creative
Iliad cast & creative - click for bigger image

On Friday #IliadLive was trending on Twitter, a remarkable feat considering it was essentially a 16-hour live reading of an Ancient Greek epic poem - not the sort of thing you normally expect social media to get excited about. Even more remarkable that among the cast of more than 60, while sparkling with theatre stars - the sort of actors that get us theatre nerds very excited - only a handful have the broader TV screen fame of the sort that usually gets Twitter excited.

The readathon started at 9am at the British Museum and was live streamed for those that couldn't make it. Benches had been set up on a first come, first served basis and were full most of the time. There were people sat on the floor nearby, some had come prepared with picnics and always a throng of people at the back - some bemused foreign tourists.

As the museum was closing those among the audience lucky enough to snap up tickets for the remainder of the story at the Almeida were ushered onto a Routemaster bus or into cycle rickshaws where the reading continued during the journey.

I reckon I caught eight or nine hours, a combination of live streaming and watching it live at the British Museum and at the Almeida. Some far sturdier than me did the whole thing braving night buses to get home after the final lines were read, shortly before 1am. (I salute you @RhianBWatts).

Anyway here are 10 of my favourite things from Iliad Live, what are yours?

1. Simon Russell Beale set the bar high with the very first reading cementing why he is a national treasure when it comes to live performance (and possibly the only stage actor who'd get up to perform at 9am).

2. At the British Museum, there was no waiting in the privacy of the wings to come on, the actors are stood to one side script in hand for all to see and study which is fairly unusual. Sometimes you could see the nerves in their body language. John Simm borrowed a pen from an AD to make last minute notes on his script and Oliver Chris just leaned casually chatting and smiling like it was a walk in the park.

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Why James McAvoy needs to tread the boards again soon

PhotoLast night was one of those rare, rare theatre experiences, a one-off event that in just five minutes cemented its place in memory and left the audience silently begging for more.

James McAvoy stepped onto the Trafalgar Studios stage and delivered a speech from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. It was the speech Antony gives at the funeral of Julius Caesar and from the moment he opened his mouth he held the packed out theatre in the palm of his hand.

So impassioned was the performance, pregnant with raw emotion: grief, bitterness and tenderness that the meaning of Shakespeare's words could not have been clearer. So impassioned was the performance that it felt like the entire play had unfolded in front of you, in just a few minutes. Just recalling it brings a flood of emotion.

When Antony requests that the citizens make a ring around the corpse of Caesar, McAvoy dragged some unsuspecting audience members from their front row seats to form a ring, never missing a beat the whole time.

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RSC Richard II cast read Thomas of Woodstock and the back stage tour

PhotoLove a rehearsed reading me and this one - Thomas of Woodstock - was born out of homework the cast of the RSC's Richard II production, were given during rehearsals.

Unfinished and with its author unidentified, Thomas of Woodstock is often called Richard II part I as it focuses on the early part of his reign. It was read by the cast during preparations for Richard II, to help put the latter in context.

Assistant director Owen Horsley was then given the task of trimming the text down and directing this rehearsed reading with some of the cast (see cast list on the right, click for bigger version).

Although tonally different it does set up the Shakespeare play superbly. It was also the most polished rehearsed reading I've seen, including some specially written music by soprano Anna Bolton who performed with Helena Raeburn. The actors made entrances and exits, swapped seats or sat on the stage and generally moved around more than you'd expect from a rehearsed reading. 

So, in Thomas of Woodstock there is much that helps to explain Richard's behaviour in Richard II, the latter picking up the story just after Woodstock's death or the Duke of Gloucester as he's called in Shakespeare's play. Richard is young and petulant but being under age it is his uncles and protector Woodstock who wield the real power - think patriarchs in a mafia family. However, the young King discovers that his uncles have mislead him about his age and therefore held the power for longer than they should.

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James McAvoy and Hayley Atwell take to the Donmar stage for an afternoon of tragedy

You don't realise how little you actually get to hear James McAvoy Scottish brogue. So little in fact that the first few lines he spoke this afternoon, at the Donmar's  rehearsed reading of Bajazet, had me thinking he was putting it on.

It is at once a testament to his skill at adopting accents for his many film and TV performances and a shame that he doesn't get to play roles where he can use his own lovely, natural voice. I so want to hear more of it and @_gabriellasf is right he must play Macbeth  (just not at the Globe).

But James McAvoy's Scottish accent was just one of the bag of treats of this afternoon's one off. Joining McAvoy in a seated performance where much is said in just the manner of turning the script pages were Hayley Atwell, Ruth Negga and Alex Jennings. It's the sort of cast list that you couldn't ever imagine being brought together for a fully fledged production but such is the joy of rehearsed readings.

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Playwrights' plays go out with a fizz rather than a bang: Across Oka

Alarm bells should have rung when I realised that Robert Holman, who wrote Across Oka, also wrote the trio of dull plays collectively called Making Noise Quietly which the Donmar recently put on.

Across Oka is not without merit in that there are some well-observed moments but ultimately the lady sat next to me summed it up after the actors had left the stage when she turned and said: 'I'm not sure what happened there'.

And that was the point. The plays dramatic denouement seemed so out of character as to not make any sense.

Rewinding, the play is a sort of musing about life expectations and disappointments. Jolyon (Paul Copley) is interested in a Professor Pavel's (George Irving) work trying to re-introduce the Siberian crane back into its natural habitat. Jolyon dies before he gets to realise his dream to visit the cranes homeland, a journey taken up by his grandson Matty (Matthew Tennyson) and widow Margaret (Marion Bailey) who .

Playwright David Eldridge chose the play for the Royal Court's playwrights' playwrights season because it made him realise you could write family drama and said he was moved by it for reasons we, as the audience, would understand once we'd watched.

I'm still curious as to what moved him. When Jolyon dies their are some poignant moments as Margaret muses on her loss and the inevitable regrets. But once the story moves to Oka, where the cranes are to be reintroduced there are some cultural tensions and the one out of character act from Matty but that is about it.

Perhaps it was stymied by the actors being seated. There is a lot of description in the play text about what the stage should look like and what characters should be be doing. Perhaps too it was hampered by having quite a large cast, being quite a long play and only having a day to rehearse.

Abide With Me, last week, was just over an hour in length and had three actors. It left me wanting to seek out more of playwright Barry O'Keeffe's work, the same can't be said for Across Oka and Robert Holman.

Playwrights plays: Roy Williams chooses the witty and well observed Abide With Me

Hadn't heard of Barrie Keeffe or the play, nor did I know that it is the second in what is called the Barbarians Trilogy, so it's been a bit of an education this afternoon and a fun one.

The premise of the play - chosen by Roy Williams as part of the Royal Court's Playwrights' Playwright season - is three football fans are waiting outside Wembley on cup final day where their beloved Man United are playing Southampton. Jan (Sam Swann) has been promised tickets for the game from his Uncle Harold who is meeting them there but he is cutting it fine.

On the surface this is a play about passion for the game. It means everything to Paul (Morgan Watkins) to see his team play for the cup having followed them around the country all year. But underneath, it is also about identity and ambition and laced with social commentary.

For Paul the game comes before everything, it is his life and his reason for living. Jan is torn between the sense of belonging, feeling like someone when he part of the football crowd and wanting to move on and make more of his life. For Louis (Daniel Kaluuya) he is just going along with the crowd, happy to be accepted but his ambitions lie outside the world of factory work and football games.

Once again, with less than 18 hours to rehearse the actors have done a stirling job, throwing themselves into the performance even standing to sing Abide With Me and play ape. It's a funny, witty and interesting play. Williams chose it because it made him realise that theatre could be the medium for the man on the street and you can understand why.

Barbarians was revived at the Broadway Studio in Tooting earlier this year and I really wish I'd seen it. Let hope this bit of a exposure in the West End sparks further interest.

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Benedict Cumberbatch is back on stage and he's angry

In praise of rehearsed readings by Poly G

Benedict Cumberbatch back on stage and he's angry

LargeWith Benedict Cumberbatch's star firmly in the ascendant I thought those of us who recognised his talent pre-Sherlock would be waiting a long time before seeing him tread the boards again*. Then came the news that he was to take the role of Jimmy Porter in Look Back In Anger for the Royal Court's series of playwrights plays performed at the Duke of York's Theatre. 

The idea is simple. Four playwrights choose their favourite play and the have two days, well a day and a half really, to rehearse with a group of actors who will perform it as a read through. You never know which lovely acting talent you might get. It's a couple if days work. No costumes, make up, props, blocking just the actors and the script. And an audience.

I bought my ticket - this is a one off performance - in advance of the casting announcement just because you never know who you are going to get and rehearsed readings are something a bit different as @polyg explains on her blog. So naturally there was smugness and much excitement when Benedict Cumberbatch's name was attached. And his wasn't the only impressive name on the cast list: Rebecca Hall, Anna Maxwell Martin and the gorgeous Matt Ryan all filled in the other principal parts (pics of cast afterwards here).

Polly Stenham, the playwright who chose the play, said in her introduction that she didn't have any directing experience but working with Cumberbatch et al was like 'joy-riding a Ferrari'.

And so our stars took to the stage or rather their seats on stage, dressed in their civvies, scripts in hand and we were off. Benedict seemed to be giving it his all from the start, although looking back he definitely relaxed into it and had a bit more fun with the part as the play progressed. He raged and cried, more than once, he mimmicked Ryan's Welsh accent and various others as Jimmy spits his famous vitriol at the world. He was even pretending to smoke his pipe towards the end.

But what I do particularly love about rehearsed readings is seeing the other actors reacting and enjoying each others performances. So when Alison (Hall) and Cliff (Ryan) are talking about Jimmy while the character was 'off stage' you could see a smile curl on his lips or a brief chuckle.

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Rough Cuts at the Royal Court

It's my first time at Rough Cuts. I've done rehearsed readings but not this short season at the Royal Court is where three plays are showcased as work in progress/experimental pieces in back to back 20 min segments.

The actors only have one day of rehearsal.

Permafrost by Brad Birch

Director: James McDonald

Cast: Lorraine Ashbourne (Mary) and Tom Brooke (Michael)

The scene is a bedsit. Mary, we quickly discover, is recently bereaved. She answers the door to Tom who worked with her, we'll assume, husband at a nearby factory. Tom has called to see how she is.

The 20 min slot progressed through several visits by Tom. Not a great deal is said. Mary is obviously still in a state of deep grief and Tom seems nervous and awkward but volunteers to help her with odd jobs.

And that is as much of a taster as we got. Where the story and presumably the relationship was going is anybodies guess. We were left tantalisingly at the doorstep of a hundred possibilities. But the pace was slow, combined with the fact that the actors didn't move around but sat on chairs to deliver their lines from the scripts it was difficult to engage.

That isn't to say that their performances weren't good Ashbourne, or Mrs Gollum, as I like to call her put in a particularly emotional performance, it's just the 20 minutes just skimmed the surface too much.

Buried by Alia Bano

Director: Joe Hill-Gibbons

Cast: Stephanie Street (Cathy), Claudia Harris (Jane), Geoffrey Streetfeild (Ryan, Jane's boyfriend).

This one was definitely further down the road to being a completed work. Jane's job has just cranked up to warped-speed as she helps prepare an important pitch. Good friend and colleague Cathy has just lost her mother and as well as contending with her grief has to organise a traditional Muslim funeral. She leans on Jane for support and comfort but Jane is new to a lot of the traditions and customs surrounding the death of a Muslim.

Tensions begin to rise as pressure from work lead Jane to confront Cathy about when she will return from compassionate leave and give vital help on the pitch.

This one had pace and in 20 minutes quickly built up a head of steam are underlying prejudices and tensions that left you wanting to find out more.

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My first ever rehearsed reading* and one to look out for

All thanks to @polyg, I got to go and see my first ever rehearsed reading last Friday. It was for a play called The Lost Mariner by Nick Payne as part of Royal Court's rough cuts season in the Jerwood Upstairs.

As I discovered, a rehearsed reading is a run through, with real actors, scripts in hand, of a work in progress. It was 40-minutes long and absolutely terrific. Only the presence of the scripts and page turning made it feel any different to a fully formed production. 

The play was about a man, Jimmy, who believes it is still 1995 and has short term memory loss. While he can't remember things like being asked to hold a carrot moments earlier only to be surprised to find it in his hand, he also doesn't recognise his 15-years-older son and wife.

His family do everything they can to try and trigger some sort of memory and struggle to cope with this unintentionally cruel form of rejection.

It was both funny and moving and I left wanting more. I'm curious to see how it evolves into a fuller play and I'll certainly be keeping an eye for it in the future.

* I've subsequently discovered from @sjc_home4tea that the Caryl Churchill readings I went to at the Royal Court in 2008 are technically rehearsed readings. So this counts as my first rehearsed reading of a play in progress.