For those not familiar with Read Not Dead, it is essentially a ‘play in a day’. The actors get their scripts in the morning, rehearse throughout the day and perform in the evening. To give you an idea of how intense this is; when staging a play at the Globe rehearsals would usually take 6 weeks.
Over the past 15 years Globe Education have been re-discovering plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries that haven’t been performed anywhere for 300 years (on record, at least). Via a brave team of actors and directors they are breathing life back into them – scripts in hand. Most of the time they work. Sometimes there’s a good reason they haven’t been performed for so long. But the total joy of seeing a new, old play that no other living person has seen is a delight – and a must for those who love early modern theatre and seeing terrified actors fly by the seat of their pants.
We took Read Not Dead to Latitude. This is the first time that it had ever been taken out of the Globe – and the first time that rehearsals had been opened to the public. In many ways a daunting prospect. The play was John Fletcher’s The Beggar’s Bush, last performed in approx 1730.
There were 20 of us in camp Globe Education – a mix of actors, a director, the Globe Education Events team and myself (Marketing Assistant). Driving through LOTS of mud, we entered a scene akin to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with strings of lights guiding us through the forest to our city of tents where we were to spend the weekend.
The day of the performance
Everybody wakes at 8.30am on Friday morning after an exceptionally soggy night. Some tents hadn’t survived the weather quite as well as others… But spirits are high, and only get higher as bacon butties and strong coffee are dished out. All the props and costumes are brought from the van down to the campsite. We don the branded t-shirts and make our way, lumbered with boxes, bags and bundles, to the Faraway Forest which is to be our rehearsal space for the day. Luckily, we’re in a lovely big spot which is on a thoroughfare allowing us to stop and chat with interested folk that stroll past.
At 10am scripts are handed out and rehearsals begin!
As time is of the essence, rehearsals start promptly. As Martin (our director) works his way methodically through the script, those who aren’t needed read through their lines pacing up and down, getting together to go over scenes, and composing melodies to songs never heard before. Just to make things more difficult, the play opens with a swordfight (remember we are in a slightly soggy forest).
Rehearsals continue (almost entirely) un-blighted by the weather. Lunch is taken whenever possible- there isn’t time to stop! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many crisps and Kit Kats eaten in one day. Have we really been rehearsing for 6 and a half hours?! It’s flown by. At 5.30pm Martin takes to the stage to introduce the show, and we’re off! With a couple of slip-ups – literally – the story is underway!
Back home at the Globe
With much of the action of The Beggar’s Bush taking place within a forest, the Faraway Forest was the perfect setting for this play. It was lovely to see so many people at the performance that we’d had the opportunity to speak with during the day, and to able to share the very special performance with them. Read Not Dead’s first excursion from home is a veritable success!
Coming up next….
The next Read not Dead production, Perkin Warbeck (pub.1634) by John Ford, will be performed at the Globe on 5 August.To contrast with Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in the theatre season The Taming of A Shrew (pub. 1594) Anon, will be performed on 2 September. The 200th Read not Dead staged reading will be A New Way to Pay Old Debts (pub.1633) by Philip Massinger.
For more details or to book tickets click this link here.