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Play-reading report: Othello, Edinburgh, 27th March, ’17

We ran a play-reading of Othello yesterday (Sunday 26th March ’17) and did something new. We cast the play by lot as usual, which resulted in 3 ‘cross-castings’: Othello, Desdemona, and Emilia.  After we’d read the play, we made a video reading of the first half of A3S3, so that you can get a feel of what our play-readings are like. You’ll find the recording below. After that, you’ll find more about the play-reading.

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We publish this, not to say how wonderful our version of Othello is, but to demonstrate that if a few of you get together and read a Shakespeare play, it comes alive, in quite a different way to a performance, but for the players / audience, the experience can be rich and deep. We hope it might  encourage you to read, perhaps a monologue, or a small scene, or even a whole play. Our software makes it easy for a group of players from 2 – 12 to play a Shakespeare play.

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For our play-reading of Othello, the play-reading came alive. Playing Emelia, I was particularly moved with her scene (A4S3) where she prepares Desdemona for bed; her discovery of Othello’s murder of Desdemona, and then her own murder at the hands of Iago.

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We haven’t chosen one of the more dramatic scenes to publish, we’ve chosen Act 3 Scene 3, where Iago sows the seeds of jealousy  in Othello’s mind. Cassio has been dismissed from office, and at the beginning of the scene, Desdemona offers him help to get back in Othello’s favour. Othello and Iago entry, and very subtly, Iago sows those seeds. See what you think of it. Click on the arrow in the image below:

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(If you like this click here to subscribe to our Youtube channel)

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So back to the play-reading – how did it go?

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I’d checked the play cast lists quite thoroughly and much to my surprise discovered that a play-reading should work best with seven players. Usually you need eight or nine players for an optimal reading, but for Othello it’s definitely seven, and this still leaves Iago with over 1,000 lines, around three times more than any other character apart from Othello, who has in the 800s.

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Well, we didn’t get our seven players. Two people were ill and couldn’t make it. Luckily, we had a cast list for 6 players, so the play-reading could go ahead with allocated roles. (If we’d less than six, then we would have run a round-robin reading of the play – where we alternate speeches – not so much fun as having your very own characters).

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We had one new player who had never used our software to play-read, so I was curious to see what he thought. He gave every impression of being enthusiastic, particularly about highlight text mode. He had also never read the play Othello before, and the gods (via our casting by lots) gave him the role of Iago, which I thought he handled well. (You can see what you think in the video reading above).

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I noticed two things I hadn’t noticed about the play before:

  • First, that Iago not only suspects that Othello has cuckolded him, but Cassio as well. Definitely a little suspect.
  • And second, that not only does Desdemona speak after she has ‘died’, but Cassio reports that Roderigo, too, spake ‘After long seeming dead’.

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I also found myself comparing the final scene of Romeo and Juliet with the finale of Othello.  There is the same need to tie up as many loose ends in the two scenes, but it is done with so much more assurance in Othello.

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Of course the main excitement of the afternoon was recording Act Three Scene Three. I hope you enjoy it (apart from the small title sequence and the small copyright page at the end – I just can’t get my software to do what I want it to do – yes I can, the problem’s been sorted).

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What I hope most of all is that the Video Readings that we are publishing will encourage more of you to take up Shakespeare play-reading in the many forms we support: Let’s Explore; Let’s Play’; and full play-readings. We’re hoping that one or two of you might record a few scenes, and send them in. If we like them, we’ll publish them as Video Readings – of course, you’ll need to use our script to do that.

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Let’s play!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

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