With 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, makeup, 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 mimicked 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 other's 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.
Rehearsed readings always feel like a special treat. A one-off club night for only the most zealous theatre fans. You get to see things you'd never normally see on stage - the actors all hanging out in the wings chatting afterwards, for example. Can't wait to see who the Royal Court pull out of the available actor's hat for the next two readings.
* He's said in interviews recently that he's keen to play Hamlet in the West End sometime in the next couple of years.
Picture of Benedict meeting fans afterwards is by @waggers1245