Great Expectations – Insight into the read-through
What does a read-through involve?
A script read-through is an event in which the writer, director and actors read through the entire script. The actors will each be given characters to read including reading the stage directions.
This can be a valuable stage in a writer’s process of developing the script for a multitude of reasons: it helps give a sense of the overall characterisation of each part, and can help reveal problems with pacing or tension and it can highlight places in which the narrative is weak or needs clarifying.
There will also be a script read-through at the start of a rehearsal period, sometimes called a table read, in which all the actors cast in roles in the production will read through the play together, this usually takes place on the first day of rehearsal.
Initial read-through of Great Expectations
At the initial read-through of Great Expectations we were using Michael Eaton’s second draft of the play. As well as Director Lucy Bailey, also present were various creatives attached to the project, including; Ginny Schiller (Casting Director), Mike Britton (Designer) and Chris Davey (Lighting Designer).
While the exercise was predominantly for the writer, the read-through was a good opportunity for other people involved with the production to gain a better understanding of the piece. We also had some members of the Playhouse team present, including Marketing and the Production office who wanted to be able to gain a better understanding of how the play might appeal to audiences at West Yorkshire Playhouse.
The actors asked to come were not necessarily those that would be available for the production itself. This was an exercise to aid in the development of the script, not to audition actors or to help them rehearse. They were asked to join as they had worked with Lucy before and would be asked to give their opinions on the script itself. They were not asked to prepare for the reading, beyond having a look at the script and the characters they were going to read in for. The benefit of this was that they would come to the script reading with little knowledge of this adaptation and could give an honest first response to the work, in a similar way to an audience who might be watching it for the first time.
Feedback from the read-through
Great Expectations is a large story, which is broken up into three smaller book by Dickens. There are a huge array of characters and scenes and it was Michael’s job as the writer to pack as much of the essence of the story into the two and a half hour play as possible. This ultimately meant he had to pare down and in some cases completely cut characters and scenes. The Pocket family were one of the victims of the necessary cuts and, apart from Herbert who still plays a main role in Pip’s adventures, were greatly reduced in this version of the story.
The read-through also helped in clarifying the importance and dramatic potential of some characters. Dolge Orlick is one of Pip’s main adversaries in Great Expectations – following an initial altercation with Joe, Pip’s brother-in-law, he ends up permanently injuring Pip’s sister and trying to kill Pip himself. He is included in Michael’s stage version but following the read through it was felt that perhaps it was not clear enough as to his antagonistic role towards Pip and his family – he came across as a nasty man, but one who was slightly superfluous to the narrative flow of the story. Therefore as a result of this feedback Michael redrafted Orlick’s scenes within the adaptation and expanded his part in order to give him more prominence, more reason for being there, and to also heighten the dramatic tension when he is on the stage.
After the read-through
Following the read-through, Michael, with Lucy’s input too, began to redraft the piece to better hone its intentions. We are now at the stage where we are at the fifth draft and it’s likely there will be at least one more draft before we begin the rehearsal process at the end of January. Some of these drafts have very little differences in them, while others feature large cuts, and even complete restructuring of scenes. Once we begin rehearsals it is likely the script will change even further, as the actors explore their characters and we examine the logic and stakes within each scene.
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