Reading plays selected by members of the group.Howard LichtermanDerek

Group Coordinators: Derek Lennard (click to contact) & Howard Lichterman

Usually Tuesdays, approximately every 2 months.

Members' houses or a local pub.

An informal group of theatre lovers who enjoy the freedom and concentration of reading plays together and creating characters as they see them. Here are some of the rules we would like everyone to adhere to before they join:
  1. A love of the theatre and a knowledge of some of the repertoire.
  2. Every member must come to the reading with their own copy of the play to avoid having to share with someone else in the group, except by prior arrangement.
  3. Members should familiarise themselves with the play before the reading, sufficient to read their lines proficiently and with some idea of characterisation.
  4. Agreeing to take part in the reading implies a commitment to attend, other than for unavoidable last-minute reasons such as illness, and to read whatever lines are assigned to you. Derek will decide how many people should be involved in a particular reading and ask a few others to be on ‘standby’.
  5. The commitment to the reading should, ideally, last the whole session with some time at the end to discuss the play. No one should leave before the end of the play if they still have lines to read.
Members are responsible for obtaining their own copies of each play, whether from a library, from an online source or by purchasing. However most of our choices will be out of copyright and where possible a free copy will be available for members to print and use.

To make the numbers work, sometimes each reader has more than one part and sometimes a main part may be divided amongst readers. Given that most plays have an unequal number of female and male parts, we also cast cross-gender, which makes the play even more challenging and fun.

Now that the group is up to 30 we usually have two readings of the play, one the second Tuesday in the morning and the other the afternoon of the fourth Tuesday.  Everyone who joins now will be on a waiting list because with 30 members we feel the group is currently full.

If you need any further encouragement have a read of what one member has to say here.

Our Next Meetings
In January the readings of Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw wil be on:
  • Tuesday 09 January, morning, Draper's Arms, Barnsbury Street, 10.15am - 1.30pm
  • Tuesday 23 January, afternoon,       "                        "              2.00pm - 5.15pm
Any further information required use the link above to contact Derek.

Our Recent Readings
              AlchemistIn September the readings were of The Alchemist by Ben Jonson. The Alchemist premiered 34 years after the first permanent public theatre opened in London; it is, then, a product of the early maturity of commercial drama in London. Only one of the University wits who had transformed drama in the Elizabethan period remained alive (this was Thomas Lodge); in the other direction, the last great playwright to flourish before the Interregnum, James Shirley, was already a teenager. The theatres had survived the challenge mounted by the city and religious authorities; plays were a regular feature of life at court and for a great number of Londoners.

The venue for which Jonson apparently wrote his play reflects this newly solid acceptance of theatre as a fact of city life. In 1597, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (a.k.a. the King's Men) had been denied permission to use the theatre in Blackfriars as a winter playhouse because of objections from the neighbourhood's influential residents. Some time between 1608 and 1610, the company, now the King's Men, reassumed control of the playhouse, this time without objections. Their delayed premiere on this stage within the city walls, along with royal patronage, marks the ascendance of this company in the London play-world (Gurr, 171). The Alchemist was among the first plays chosen for performance at the theatre.

Jonson's play reflects this new confidence. In it, he applies his classical conception of drama to a setting in contemporary London for the first time, with invigorating results. The classical elements, most notably the relation between Lovewit and Face, are fully modernised; likewise, the depiction of Jacobean London is given order and direction by the classical understanding of comedy as a means to expose vice and foolishness to ridicule.

The Wild Duck
— Henrik Ibsen. Idealism WildDuckand The Truth versus living a ‘life-lie’, with skeletons firmly incarcerated; does exposing the supposed truth bring happiness, does it set people free, or does the world collapse? These are the themes played out in Ibsen’s intense psychological drama, written in 1884, after The Doll’s House, Ghosts and Enemy of the People and just before Hedda Gabler.

Gathered in the upstairs room of the Draper’s Arms in July, we wrestled with these deep questions, whilst sharing roles, and consuming the usual excellent coffee and biscuits. As ever, reading a play together is huge fun, with each reader bringing their own interpretation to the role, leading to often unexpected insights and increased dramatic tension.

Much of the play’s action has taken place in the past and it is only now that the chickens are coming home to roost….and not only in the Ekdal’s attic… The former relationship between old Werle and Gina; the ‘generosity’ and manipulation of old Werle; the fantasy world inhabited by old Ekdal and his son Hjalmar; the naïve idealism of Gregers and his damaging meddling; the desperate ignoring of the past by Gina; the bewilderment of poor Hedwig; all these aspects come together dramatically and horrifyingly in the final act when the world does indeed collapse for all the main characters, with the tragic suicide of Hedwig, and the realisation of what is meant by Truth and its consequences.

As you might imagine, the play generated much animated discussion as we debated, agreed, disagreed on the various characters, their virtues and their failings, but all agreeing it had been a stimulating and hugely enjoyable afternoon, thanks to Howard’s expert casting and organisation. It was Howard’s last play in this role, so thank you so much, and thank goodness you will continue to be involved in this excellent group!
(Report by Rosalynde Lowe)

— Tom Stoppard. In May eleven of us gathered at the DrapersArcadia Arms around a large wooden table (which is pretty much the only furniture required in a stage production of this play) and several props, ranging from a tortoise — actually a door stop but pretty convincing, and as active as a ‘real’ animal — to a convincing mock-up of the front page of a well known tabloid. The table was thus suitably busy. As were we. The play is a wonderful mix of the comic and the serious, as Stoppard combines serious thoughts on the transition between the classical and romantic, the interaction between carnal knowledge and scientific knowledge, mathematics, and the passing of time — and how history repeats itself.

The play moves backwards and forwards between the 19th century and the present day. We convincingly achieved this by assigning one side of the table for each period. The props took pride of place in the middle.

The humour of the play was convincingly portrayed. Although we had all read the play in preparation, and most had seen it, there were plenty of laughs, mainly intended by Stoppard, but there was one moment when noises off provided by Islington Borough’s refuse collection coincided with Valentine’s line: ‘…I mean, the noise! Impossible!’

Coffee and biscuits fortified us, the former keeping warm over the passage of two centuries, as intended by Stoppard. All in all, a challenging but rewarding reading. I for one want to see a production as soon as possible! (Report by Chris Finch.)

Cat on a hot tin roofIn March we tackled Tennessee Williams's riveting play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The play, set in the 1950s, is about the deep, lacerating emotions unleashed within an extended family, as the patriarch, ’Big Daddy’, celebrates his 65th birthday. We are transported to the deep south of the US, to Big Daddy’s plantation, the largest in the State, as we learn that he is suffering from terminal cancer, about which he is being kept in the dark. The issue of inheritance takes centre stage as the two sons, or rather their wives, fight an increasingly vicious battle to lay claim to the estate. The younger son, Brick, is favoured by Big Daddy but he is crippled by alcoholism and depression after the death of his best friend, a fellow professional football player. An insinuation of a homosexual relationship is constantly in the air as a further reason for his unsuitability as an heir. His wife, Margaret, is frantic with both her unrequited love for a husband, who now rejects her sexually, and her determination to make sure they are not cast out into the cold. She is reminded throughout the play that she is childless and that the other son has five children with another one on the way, a much better prospect for continuing the dynasty.

Big Daddy proves the most complex character in the play as he speaks freely to his broken son of his past and what he hopes is his future. His story is an example of the ‘American Dream’: born into penury, becoming a ‘hand’ on the plantation and then rising to the position of manager. When the two male owners die they leave the estate to him and he revels in telling stories of his subsequent greed and avarice. He also expresses a painfully misogynistic hatred of his wife and gleefully plans to sleep with as many beautiful young women as he can lay his hands on, once he is well. He is determined to keep his elder son and his disgusting progeny as far away from him as possible.

None of this has any effect on Brick’s outlook and he continues to drink throughout the scene. He is waiting for the ‘click’ in his head, when the alcohol finally gives him some peace. The play ends bleakly with Big Daddy’s groans of pain off-stage and Margaret’s ridiculous claim that she is pregnant after all. At the end, she declares her love to her husband and tells him they are going to make the pregnancy real. Brick ends the play with ‘ Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?’ We finished the reading considerably “wrung-out”. Quite an experience! (Report by Kathryn Dodd.)

During January we held two extremely enjoyable readings of Hay Fever by Noel Coward. On both occasions, several new members joined us, and many of us found that reading the play out loud brought it very much to life!

Our last play read was Undiscovered Country, a strong and sometime vicious look at selfish Viennese society at the turn of the 20th century. It was not an easy play to read or to feel for the characters but we felt it stretched us nevertheless. Lots of fascinating parts.

In October we read Racing Demon, a 25 year old play by David Hare Racing Demonabout the troubles of the Church of England. It has not gone out of date and was one of a series this politically active playmaker wrote about the establishment in Britain. The main character is a characteristic inner city vicar struggling to remember 'what God has to do with it', when coping with endless social problems. He is under fire from a self-obsessed curate who believes that he and God have the only answer. There's a meddling bishop who is intent on turning his episcopate into a business and finally a sad, dear priest who has to run away because he is found out by the tabloids to be gay. Lots of yummy parts. (Report by Tim Maby.)

For the last play the afternoon group met at the house of Claire and Robert Milne and we are very grateful to them for letting us do so.

School for ScandalIn June two separate groups met to read Sheridan’s 18th century comedy The School for Scandal. Everyone loved it, thought it a deliciously witty piece, and we laughed a lot while we were reading it. We had such fun with this 18th century comedy of manners, playing such characters as Lady Teazle, Mrs Candour, Sir Oliver Surface and Sir Peter Teazle. Both the  morning and the afternoon groups of 10 people each, most who now know each other and are used to our different acting styles, and with the cross-gender roles some of our men made elegant, gossipy, sharp and witty ladies, while some women had a good go at the stuck-up and devious men of the play. It was interesting to realise that the 19th century turned more to novels and poetry and good plays didn’t return until Ibsen and later Shaw came on the scene. While today wit has almost disappeared as a form of laughter — most younger people have no idea what wit means, which is a sad loss.

Group ReadingIn March Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard was only the second play I’ve prepared for the reading group and on first reading, even though I’d seen the play on stage, I was surprised by how so little ‘happens’. The allocation of parts is by gender-neutral, random allocation and I got the part of Lopakhin, a rough uneducated businessman who is always aware of his peasant roots as he socialises with his land-owning neighbours. I prepare by blocking my part, page by page and then reading through the whole play in one go. I then concentrate just on my part, thinking about each interaction, how the character speaks, and his feelings about the other characters in different scenes. I jot down notes in the margin. Lastly, I read the play again quite fast, a day or so before our ‘performance’.

On the day, we meet in a delightfully light, upper room at the Drapers Arms. After a short introduction we get straight on and everyone follows the script, apparently very well prepared and with deep concentration. We don’t ‘act’ except with our voices, but a strong sense of the play’s mischievous fun at the characters’ inability to act decisively in their own interest is developed. I found Paul, a new member, provided the voice of two characters quite distinctively, with the aged serf particularly well played. All the male players did exceptionally well with the myriad of young women they played, coming across thoughtfully and delicately as they depicted women tossed about at the whim of men. There’s not always time to discuss the play, but that day we enjoyed our various interpretations of what Chekhov was hoping to achieve in a play he wrote at the very end of his life. (Report by Kathyrn Dodd.)

Tales from HolywoodIn January we held two terrific readings of Christopher Hampton’s play about exiles in Hollywood in the 1930’s, Tales from Hollywood. The two groups of 13 each, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, entered into the spirit of this witty, funny but also sad play with great gusto. Both groups were excited after the readings were finished and are ready for the next one.

Ideal HusbandThe first playreading event took place on Tuesday 13th October 2015 at the Draper’s Arms, Barnsbury. The group of 15 readers were all very well prepared and we had much fun reading Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. A play about corruption in politics it had many resonances for today, full of fascinating characters, and the readers revelled in Wilde’s language.


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