The cast of Mary Shelley meticulously prepare for a rehearsed readingEmily Sparkes with permission for Varsity

On a grey day, I trekked outside to sit in on a rehearsal room for Mary Shelley. Despite the gloomy weather, in the hustle and bustle of those first few minutes of rehearsal in Christ’s JCR I was met with so much warmth by the director, Emily Sparkes, and the rest of the cast, that the day seemed less grey. They danced to Doja Cat’s Say So and discussed who Mary Shelley would be if she had attended this year’s Met Gala. The consensus answer from the cast: Anne Hathaway. The warm-up focused on the actors listening to their bodies, stretching and warming up their voices, before beginning to rehearse scenes from the script.

“A rehearsed reading is so much more than its somewhat reductive name”

Before the rehearsal I had wondered how Emily would block a piece of writing that was going to be presented to an audience as essentially a table read. What I learnt is that a rehearsed reading is so much more than its somewhat reductive name. There was a clear focus on the actors’ vocal and facial skills as they practised their lines in different ways, being directed on their expressions. The actors practise the scenes using the space to help them visualise how their characters would move, paying homage to the fact that the script’s intended medium is film. Mary Shelley is a new screenplay that follows Frankenstein’s famous author through her formative years exploring passionate love, intense loss and the discovery of identities.

“Both Emily and Arianna think about their actors first in giving them direction”

When the cast returned to focus on the reading of the script after these exercises, there was an improvement in their emotional range. There was a lovely dynamic forming between Jacinta Ngeh’s Mary Shelley and Isabelle Duffy-Cross’s Claire Clairmont as they implicitly communicated through their expressions. Emily draws connections by speaking of the screenplay in its entirety with the actors. This helps when she is giving direction and is a credit to the show she is creating. The room was filled with so much joy, particularly Qawiiah Bisiriyu delivered hilarious lines as Polidori, which caused eruptions of laughter.


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The room is lucky to have writer Arianna Muñoz in attendance throughout the process as the actors rehearsed what she proclaimed to be one of her favourite scenes. Noah Chamberlain, who plays a very charming Lord Byron, asked about the intended cinematography of the piece. The script very much exists in the mind of the cast and crew in its cinematic form and this permeates through their performances.

Both Emily and Arianna think about their actors first in giving them direction. They describe how the scenes would play out if it was to be filmed so the actors can envision it. This is something that really brings any production, but particularly this one, gravitas. Mary Shelley exemplified everything a rehearsal room should have: kindness, laughter and hard-work.