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What has happened to rehearsed readings? And 3 of my favourites

Rehearsed readings have never been common but they were an occasional feature of the London theatre calendar.

Iliad live making of still almeida
Poly and Rev Stan's moment of fame in the audience of the Almeida's Iliad Live

I say 'were' because the practice seems to have disappeared or at least become a rarity in recent years.

Rehearsed readings, for the unfamiliar, are one-off play readings usually done with a day or less of rehearsals.

The actors perform, script in hand on a bare stage, often seated - but not always.

All-day reading

I've seen rehearsed readings for new plays before they go into production but usually, they will mark an anniversary or reflect a theme or season of plays.

The last one I remember going to was Iliad Live* in 2015 when more than 60 actors took it in turns to read the entire Iliad starting at 9 am, at the British Museum before moving to the Almeida for the evening, finishing at 1 am.

What notable rehearsed readings have there been since?

Fun and unique

They are fun and unique to experience not least because the actors stay on stage and you can see their reactions when they aren't part of a scene.

You get to see theatre delivered raw and as a one-off performance - no second chances for the actors - which means an extra frisson of excitement in the auditorium.

Ticket prices are generally cheap because they are scheduled outside regular performance hours as extra programming with no special staging or lighting.

Benedict Cumberbatch Look Back in Anger
Benedict Cumberbatch after a rehearsed reading of Look Back in Anger. Photo by @waggers1245

And, because they don't require a huge time commitment they often attract some pretty starry actors; I've seen Ben Whishaw, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hayley Atwell and James McAvoy all take part in rehearsed readings, for example.

They create a bit of a buzz, are always popular and I'm sure work well in promoting a particular season - Iliad Live was part of the Almeida's Greeks Season.

And yet they somehow manage to remain casual affairs, the actors aren't in costume just their own clothes and often seen walking down the street 10 minutes afterwards. 

Dearth of rehearsed readings

So why haven't we had one for a while, have they gone out of favour? Has anyone got any ideas?

Some of my fondest theatre memories have been rehearsed readings, here are my favourites:

Iliad Live, British Museum & Almeida Theatre 2015

Already mentioned above but this was such a crazy and brilliant day with a conveyor belt of superb actors taking to the lectern to read segments of the Iliad.  You can read my 10 favourite moments from the sections that I watched here.

* The readings were broadcast live and you can see the recordings of each individual actor here on the Almeida website.

The Moment Before I Am Powerful, Trafalgar Studios 2014

As an extra to the Trafalgar Transformed season director Jamie Lloyd got together 5 actors to deliver 5 speeches from Shakespeare's plays given by political leaders. 

James McAvoy's few minutes performing a speech from Julius Caesar was delivered with such range and punch I'll never forget it.

Look Back In Anger, Duke of York's 2012

As part of an afternoon season called playwrights' playwrights, contemporary writers chose a favourite play and then directed a rehearsed reading. Polly Stenham chose Look Back in Anger and roped in Benedict Cumberbatch, Anna Maxwell Martin, Rebecca Hall and Matt Ryan to perform.

Poly and I booked tickets before the casting was announced so it was a huge bonus to the experience. It was pretty special.

We'd long been fans of Cumberbatch but by this time he was riding high on Sherlock-fame so it was a treat to see him at a relatively casual event.

Click through for more write-ups of rehearsed readings and do share your rehearsed reading memories in the comments.