In Praise of Rehearsed Readings

I always wanted to do a blog post about rehearsed readings and with the new season of Playwrights’ Playwright at the Duke of York’s, this is the perfect opportunity.

Straight to the point, for me rehearsed readings are theatre at its purest: a group of very talented actors, little rehearsal, no time to overthink it, no real props or set to hide behind. Actors are relaxed and playful. There is very little at stake (no reviews or press) which means there is everything at stake: the moment that can’t be repeated or improved upon and it can only be shared by a bunch of people in that one evening.

In many ways, rehearsed readings (and, more to the point, the Royal Court rehearsed readings) got me into theatre. In spring 2006, the Royal Court had 50 rehearsed reading celebrating its 50 years. I only went to three or four of them but I do remember my epiphany moment: A Number by Caryl Churchill, with Michael Sheen and Michael Gambon. If you know the play, Michael Sheen played several different characters who are supposed to look exactly the same. Only words and acting and I found myself thinking “you can’t improve on that”. A few days later, I saw David Tennant, Anne Marie Duff and Helen McCrory do a rehearsed reading of Look Back in Anger and I can still clearly hear Jimmy Porter’s line “Doesn’t it matter to you — what people do to me?“. The way David Tennant said it was like dropping a bomb. The fact that it was 50 years to the day, on the exact same stage, of the first performance of the first production was mind blowing in itself. (Also, you can read my friend Revstan’s blog about the event, with a very special perspective).

The thing is, with rehearsed readings, you have to be there: it’s one evening, there won’t be photographs, or programmes, or a recording. Often there is very little information relating to the event. You can’t postpone it because it’s for one evening only. They feel secret, precious and underground because you have to go looking for them.

The first time I saw Andrew Scott in anything was in a rehearsed reading of a german play. I don’t remember the play, I remember him. Benedict Cumberbatch, before his Sherlock following, was standing at the Royal Court stage shirtless in a rehearsed reading of a Wallace Shawn play. I remember a strangely tender moment between Mark Gatiss and Tom Hollander in another Wallace Shawn play. I know people who saw Posh before it was Posh.

So give rehearsed readings a try. Or not. After all, they are for the truly initiated.

P.S. any memories of rehearsed readings will be much appreciated.

UPDATE 30/6/2012

A couple of not-reviews for Kenneth Lonergan’s Starry Messenger, the first in the series of Playwrights’ Playwright rehearsed readings at the Duke of York’s. The indefatigable Ian writes on his There Ought To Be Clowns blog and the unstoppable Nick on Partially Obstructed View.

And check the comments for fascinating links to previous rehearsed readings from my friedns Hal4King and Revstan.

4 responses to “In Praise of Rehearsed Readings

    • I always remember the weirdest things, so what the actors wear is totally legit.

  1. You know Blogger has a very efficient search system. For instance, I can remind you of that first Andrew Scott rehearsed reading you saw. I remember regretting how much I’d raved about him in case you didn’t feel the same when you saw him. WHY would I have worried?

    And I’m pretty sure you must have been with me for something earlier than the Shawn when you saw Mr Cumberbatch. Perhaps the other things weren’t rehearsed readings. I never realised you hadn’t seen readings before I dragged you (willingly!) to the Royal Court. That remains one of the most intense couple of months even though it was as long ago as 2006.

    Anyhoo…..there’s this stuff still knocking about

    • It wasn’t the first time I saw Mr Cumberbatch on stage (Rhinoceros was definitely before), but the shirtless bit made an impression. Plus a lot of people would be interested in that little detail.

      Your blog is second to none for information about rehearsed readings 🙂

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