Before telling you about the delights of our reading of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘ – a few words about The Merchant of Venice:
I’ve finally got an answer which satisfies me as to why Antonio is so sad. It came from Northrop Frye. I’ve posted a comment on The Merchant of Venice Playreading report which explains it. If you’re interested, follow the link above and scroll to the very bottom of the post to find the comment. Whilst we’re on The Merchant of Venice, don’t forget we’ve updated the punctuation and spelling of the script.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream playreading report:
We held our first playreading of 2015 here in Edinburgh on 11th January. It’s cold and dark in Edinburgh in January. The sun rises after 8:00am and sets again about 4:00pm. To cheer ourselves up, I thought it would be good to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream to remind ourselves of the weather to come in a few months time.
My partner and I prepare for each play-reading by reading the MFFE script out loud, taking alternate speeches. We do it twice, with each starting a reading once so that we’ve read all the speeches of the play out loud by the time we’re done – it’s good exercise for the brain and tongue and mouth to work their way through the whole script.
To give us a break from this physical effort, we usually watch the play in the BBC’s The Shakespeare Collection version (they’re not always the best production, but they usually stay pretty close to the script). This time, as well as the BBC version, I also watched a DVD of the recent Globe production. You may remember my 5-* review of that production, back in July last year.
Watching those two productions made me nervous about our play-reading. Both productions made extensive use of visual humour as well as the script. In the BBC production, the forest scenes make extensive use of a small pond: fairies get dipped in it by Puck; Helena (or Hermia, or both) fall backwards into it in the lover scenes) etc. In the recent Globe production, the lovers in the forest make human knotwork shapes, rather like the figurework on ancient Greek vases, and the Pyramus and Thisbe play is made hilarious by continuous farce involving repairs to the too-small stage; Thisbe’s hooped dress; and, of course, the deaths of Pyramus and Thisbe – it’s the only production I’ve seen where Thisbe manages to upstage Pyramus’ death.
Seeing the two productions made me worried that a playreading with only words might not be quite so amusing.
Well the day came, and twelve of us came together to read the play. We did have problems, but not where I was expecting. The play casting for 12 readers wasn’t very good. In the first half, Demetrius and Lysander had to be read by the same reader, who wasn’t happy. We switched Lysander to be read by another, and that solved the main problem.
The casting software which creates the castcards needs a little guidance from a human being (me) who understands the play a bit. I’d been under time pressure when creating the castcards, and had let the software do its stuff for play-readings for 11 or 12 readers, without guiding it. (Note that since the reading, I’ve tweaked the castcards for 11 and 12 readers and they’re now satisfactory). It’s good to feel that there’s still some role for a person in casting the play.
[Ed. note in 2018: Since this play-reading in 2015 we’ve introduced online versions of the plays which support cue scripts (or parts and cues) and highlit text, and this has replaced castcards, though they may make a comeback.]
So how did the play-reading go? It was just as well that the reader of Titania was lounging on a chaise-longue. She spent most of the play collapsed with laughter. The rest of the readers too were thoroughly enjoying the play, and not because of Titania’s laughter. The play gripped everyone’s imagination. One of our better readers got quite cross thinking of the non-Shakespearean humour introduced by actors through farce, or physical bits of business. “It’s funny, but it’s not Shakespeare’s humour – his humour is in the text!!!” Or in the punctuation, if you think of the Prologue.
Shakespeare’s humour in the Pyramus and Thisbe play is mostly about bad acting, and I guess if you’ve got an audience of 2,000 or so, each paying £30 or so for their tickets, you don’t want to rely on bad acting for your laughs.
After the reading, we didn’t have much of a serious conversation about the play. We ate our sandwiches and drank our coffee / tea, and luxuriated in the happiness which comes from a delightful reading of a delightful play.
By the way, the castcards for A Midsummer Night’s Dream have been updated and are available from the Production / Playreading pack, together with improved spelling and punctuation of the scripts. The same scripts are available for free download from the A Midsummer Night’s Dream overview – scroll down to the bottom of the page for the free downloads.
We hope you enjoy luxuriating in the pleasure from a group play-reading soon, and here are some links from the index to the play, which will let you play-read scenes for 1, or many players. If you want to play-read the whole play, open the index to the play and choose a cast list for the appropriate number of players.
If you are using, or thinking of using, Players-Shakespeare.com’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays for production rehearsals or play-reading, why don’t you ask to become a member of our Support for Playreading & Productions Closed FB group?