There’s been a lot of interest in play-reading Shakespeare’s plays recently, both on our web-site, and on our Facebook page. We hope that some of you will move on from being interested to start running a play-reading. Here in Edinburgh, we run Shakespeare play-readings from September through May. We’ve just (28th June) published our latest version of Macbeth, in preparation for our first play-reading in September. We hope that one or two other groups will play-read Macbeth in the same month. You’ve plenty of time to get 8 – 10 friends together; explore the play by reading monologues; running a few Let’s Play scenes with fewer friends; and even watch one or two productions on your TV / PC; so that you’re all ready for the first play-reading. Good luck!
We’ve upgraded our edition of Macbeth with lots of new features to help you explore the play. At the top-level, with this new release, you can:
- Use “Let’s Explore” to explore the characters of Macbeth or Lady Macbeth (or any other character in the play)
- Use “Let’s Play” with a few friends to play: Lady Macbeth’s dreadful resolve (A1S5m 2 players); Macbeth shall sleep no more (A2S2, 2 players);
The porter’s scene (A2S3, 2 players); Lenox talks ironically (A3S6, 2 players); The Ghost of Banquo (A3S4, 4 players); By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes (A4S1, 7 players); All my pretty Chickens, and their Dam! (A4S2, 3 players)
- Explore the original, Jacobean, casting of the play for 28 players
- Play-read the whole play with 7 to 10 play-readers (we recommend 8 or 9)It is possible to use the cast lists for 9, 10,, or the original casting for performance.
- Find out how our (Edinburgh Shakespeare play-reading group) play-reading went in May ’16. We’ll be reading the play again in September / October ’17 and will publish another report on how it went. We’re hoping that one or two of you may also run play-readings of Macbeth around then.
- Watch 2 productions of the play at home: the RSC DVD (with Judi Dench & Ian McKellan); and The Globe production.
The index to the right of this post (or after it if you’re using a smart phone to read this post) allows you to access all these different aspects of the play. Do try the index out. The focus, as always, is on enjoying and exploring the play, and the index is the starting place for that exploration.
This is the eighth play that we’ve published which provides this level of support (they’re all highlit in blue on our Home Page).. We plan to publish around one a month from now on in this format, so there’ll be plenty to keep a monthly play-reading group busy.
Let’s go down a level and explore each of these areas in more detail.
This allows you to explore any character in a Shakespeare play by reading (out loud preferred) the character’s lines in Parts and Cues format (where only that character’s lines are shown, plus their cues), or in Highlight Text format (where the whole script is shown, with the character’s lines highlit in colour).
Many people find it strange to only see one character’s lines, but for an actor, it is what they are going to end up doing on stage, and it is how scripts were given to actors in Shakespeare’s day. It helps the reader to focus on the lines of his character without the ‘noise’ of other roles’ lines. It is particularly useful where a character has large speeches in a scene.
In ‘highlight text’ mode the text of the whole scene is shown, with the character’s lines highlit. This gives context to a scene which has already been read in ‘Parts and Cues’ mode, and is really useful when there’s lots of dialogue with short speeches.
Is this way of looking at a character’s part on its own, and in the context of the whole scene useful? Let me speak from my own experience. Until recently, I didn’t really know Romeo and Juliet very well. I had never acted in it and I had never directed it. Of course I knew the story, but that’s not the same as the richness of understanding one get’s through detailed playing as an actor or director. Reading Juliet’s part in Parts and Cues mode, made me realize what an extraordinary character she is – to me, an aging male, far more interesting than Romeo.
This lets you play scenes, or extracts of scenes, with a small number of players. In feel, it’s not unlike a rehearsal of a scene from a play, with the difference that you can swap characters and run it again and again.
For Macbeth, we’ve taken seven scenes and cast them for as few players as is practical and they can be used to let a few people explore scenes. It lets people explore their acting abilities in a fairly non-threatening environment, and perhaps best of all, the casting can be gender-blind. The players can get a good understanding of the scene and the character of the roles. The scenes we’ve provided for Macbeth are:
Also, you may spend an evening with some friends ‘playing scenes from Shakespeare’. The number of players is likely to be fixed, but you don’t have to limit yourself to one play. Our Let’s Play menu allows you to see all the scenes we’ve put into “Let’s Play” format for 1, 2, 3, or 4 players, or even more).Of course, you’re not constrained to play only these scenes, you can play any scene, but you have to set up the casting yourself, using the Script Setup gearwheel on the script window.
Play-readings of a complete play:
Of course, what we really want you to do is get a group of friends together for a few hours (Sunday afternoons are good) to read a whole play together, and that is why we we provide castings which let a small number of people play the play. For Macbeth we provide castings for 7 – 10 players, plus the original Jacobean casting of 28.
What we have found in Edinburgh is that there are two forms of play-reading that work for us:
- In the first you have enough players to give each player one principal role. This is usually somewhere between 10 and 12 players, but varies of course by play.
- The second approach, which is what we do now, is to have somewhere between 6 and 8 players. This means that each player is kept much busier in the play-reading, which most players like, but may have to speak to themselves (in different roles) occasionally).
A play-reading does not have the formality of a performance, with stage curtains; lights; darkness in the auditorium. Instead, a few friends get together and read a Shakespeare play. They perform their parts as well as they can, but they are also the audience, listening to the play. We play the play for each other. When it goes well, it’s magic.
You don’t believe me? Then try it – I think you’ll be surprised.
Of course, the way most people experience Shakespeare is by watching a performance: in the theatre; at the cinema; or more and more frequently on your television at home.
There can be little doubt that the most emotionally powerful way of experiencing a play is to see a great performance live, in the theatre. If the performance goes well, the audience are moved, and that stimulates the actors to give even more, and we all have a wonderful experience. Cinema too, can provide powerful emotional experiences.
And so we provide links to performances of Shakespeare’s plays that we think are interesting and that you can watch at home. For Macbeth, we provide two:
|Review, RSC Macbeth (*****) on DVD, with Judi Dench & Ian McKellan|
|Review, The Globe Production of Macbeth (****)|
These films can give you powerful emotional responses to the play. However, they don’t let you explore the depths of the play, primarily because you are a fairly passive participant, they happen in real time, and everything happens so fast that you miss a lot.
This new version of Macbeth (and the other plays we’ve already published and will publish soon) allows you to explore the play in ways that are not easily achieved with standard versions of the play.
There’s a lot of different things you can do, but they are all aimed at the same thing – experiencing the play emotionally. It is by experiencing the emotions generated by the plays that we grow to love Shakespeare.