On Playreadings

I am wearing a jumper with Rock & Roll written on it, and to honour that garment I have spent the past hour finalising the cast list for Monday’s online Christ Church playreading, which will be Romeo and Juliet. I was surprised to realise it will be the fourteenth playreading I’ve run since taking up my Christ Church Fellowship in October 2018 – and the fourth I’ve run online. I’m sharing the list below in case it’s of interest, and also to note that our last in-person playreading was on 2 March 2020 – almost exactly a year before we’ll read Romeo and Juliet. I tracked down an email to make sure (I have been… variable at archiving the readings) and detected no hint of concern; we did then cram about 25 people into my office. 

I began the play readings because (as a graduate student and ECR) I’d really loved the Liripoop playreadings run by Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith. I thought that a version for undergraduates could build community and introduce sixteenth-to-eighteenth-century plays to students in a low-stakes, enjoyable way. Those who know the Oxford BA syllabus will see that I followed it very closely pre-pandemic. This means reading Early Modern drama in Michaelmas (Autumn) Term; Restoration/eighteenth-century drama in Hilary (Spring) Term; and Shakespeare in Trinity (Summer). That’s been helpful, and I scheduled plays to complement my classes; during the pandemic, I also moved to a very deliberate pedagogy of Bangers Only. Where possible, I choose short plays with (in pre-pandemic times) a lot of hard copies available in Oxford’s lending libraries and (very cheaply) online.

Almost fourteen playreadings in, the regular cast includes undergraduates, postgraduates and recent students from across the university – not just English and not just Christ Church. During lockdown we’ve had people from all over the UK, and also from France, come together to read. I look forward to seeing all the participants again in person, but online playreadings have also been absolutely lovely: The Winter’s Tale, before Christmas, was one of my favourites. There were two reasons: first, several Freshers genuinely didn’t know what was coming when the royal family assembled to see Dead Hermione’s Statue; second, people wore costumes. Another joy is seeing students who initially attended as an “audience member” start to request small parts of their own, and then bigger, and then bigger. That’s another big thing: you don’t need to read to attend. Nor do you need any acting experience or ability. The only real rule is not to bring dark-coloured drinks into a study with pale grey carpet.

Reading the plays of course throws up new textual insights and delights; preparing the cast lists and doubling charts has been illuminating (it’s also given me some good research ideas). But that’s not really been the point. It’s taught me more about how plays sound, and how people read, and about the merits and demerits of snack foods sold in the vicinity of St Aldate’s. This blog post is to mark the fourteenth playreading of its kind, and to say thank you to everyone who’s attended over the past two-and-a-half years. It’s also to challenge me to create an archive of the readings in a much more deliberate way.

nb food is key

If you have questions, or run a similar series of your own, I’d love to hear from you. These are the plays we’ve read together – now I’ll get thinking about where we’ll go next! 

  1. Autumn 2018: The Massacre at Paris (Christopher Marlowe)
  2. Autumn 2018: Arden of Faversham (Anon.)
  3. Spring 2019: The Country Wife (William Wycherley)
  4. Spring 2019: The Beaux Stratagem (George Farquhar)
  5. Summer 2019: The Merry Wives of Windsor (W. Shakespeare)
  6. Summer 2019: Pericles (W. Shakespeare)
  7. Autumn 2019: The Witch (Thomas Middleton)
  8. Autumn 2019: The Changeling (Thomas Middleton and William Rowley)
  9. Spring 2020: Venice Preserv’d (Thomas Otway)
  10. Spring 2020: The Enchanted Island (John Dryden and William Davenant)
  11. Summer 2020: Twelfth Night (W. Shakespeare)
  12. Autumn 2020: Edward II (Christopher Marlowe)
  13. Autumn 2020: The Winter’s Tale  (W. Shakespeare)
  14. Spring 2021: Romeo and Juliet (see above)
  15. ?????

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