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Playreading Report: Twelfth Night (again!!!) 31st Jan, Edinburgh

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We ran another play-reading of Twelfth Night last Sunday (31st Jan ’16), only two weeks after our last one. (You can see the play-reading report for the earlier reading of Twelfth Night here.)


Our play-reading group is growing fast at the moment, and rather than turn people away, we decided to run two play-readings, with, as it happened, 9 players at each of them. A few people were at both readings.


There was quite a lot different with this play-reading. It is the first play-reading we’ve held with a ‘guest’ host. The play-reading was held in a fourth-floor Victorian flat, the room facing north across North Edinburgh, with the Firth of Forth visible and then Fife beyond. It was a clear and sunny afternoon, if windy (the remains of the storm that affected the East coast of the USA earlier in the week).


There were also some new faces at the reading. It’s always good to welcome some newcomers, and they really took to using our “Let’s Play” electronic scripts.There were no technology problems, and our casting mechanism showed it’s flexibility, with 9 people reading a casting for 10, with one player reading both Sir Toby and Orsino (who only talked to eachother once, in A5S1). It does look as if we should publish all the castings for each play in “Let’s Play” format to make it just that little bit faster to get into the reading.


We cast this play-reading by lot, nearly leaving it up to the gods as to who would play whom. However, a couple of players got the same roles that they had a fortnight ago, so they swapped with other players, and then we got going.


I was cast as Olivia, and despite the age and sex differences, thoroughly enjoyed myself, being far more at home than with Malvolio. I was surprised to find out that the role is quite small – she’s only in 6 scenes. Of course, in a sense, the play revolves around her: Orsino is in love with her; Malvolio fancies she’s in love with him; Viola is definitely not in love with her; Sir Andrew is courting her; and Sebastian falls for her. In the production I had directed a few years ago, Olivia had been played as a rather forceful character, with every opportunity taken for comedy. I found myself playing her rather differently – quite melancholic, most of the time.


I think of the play as being centred on the story of Viola and Sebastian, and their finding of  partners in Orsino and Olivia, with an amusing, if cruel sub-plot of the conflict between Sir Toby and his pals against Malvolio. But this play-reading production was quite clearly not that. The Malvolio / Sir Toby sub-plot was centre stage, with the Orsino / Vioila-Cesario / Sebastian story there, but not pre-eminent.


This was not due to the playing. All the players read well. This meant that the Box Hedge scene, with Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Fabian interrupting Malvolio went very well. It struck me that maybe the humour in that scene depends more on the timing of the characters in the box hedge than in Malvolio’s very long set piece. It certainly had our players in laugh-out-loud laughter which doesn’t happen that often in a play-reading.


What was strange was that it seemed quite a different play to the version we had played just a fortnight ago. More than one player commented on how it had changed. Of course those who had been at both performances were playing different roles and perhaps that had made the difference. I think the play is very finely balanced between eight or so main characters, anyone of which can star in a particular production. Perhaps, as John Barton had done it is best played as a Chekhovian country-house drama, where all the characters wander around fairly independently of each other.


After 1 production and 3 or 4 playreadings in the last 3 years or so, I think I’m now Twelfth Nighted-out, but the play continues to impress itself on me as one of Shakespeare’s best comedies.


(You can find Twelfth Night in our “Let’s Play” section with a casting for 10, a casting for 11, and a casting for 12, so you can play-read it with our interactive, Cloud Reader, using Parts and Cues and Highlit Text. Just click on one of those links!).


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