Play Reading Group
To be a group leader you don’t need any qualifications, just a lot of enthusiasm, but the fact that Ann Pennington-Legh was very active in the Maskers, an amateur dramatic society in Southampton, and that she was a finalist in the Young Conservative National Speaking Competition surely makes her an ideal leader for both Poetry Reading and Play Reading; and she is.
The effort group leaders put into running groups are often overlooked. Ann has run this group for the last 15 years and is outstanding in the effort and commitment she gives to it, and judging by the length of time some group members have been with her, they obviously agree with my thoughts. Firstly a play has to be chosen which involves a trip to Witham Library where the area’s collection of plays is kept. Whilst there she considers several plays and when she has decided which to order, the library contacts a central body to find out if enough copies are available: if so they are ordered and sent to the Burnham Library for Ann to collect.
Choosing the right plays involves a lot of thought as she has to find those that have the right number of parts and are not too long (60 reading pages is about right otherwise the play is read over two months which is not ideal). The group has 15 members so often a play with 7 or 8 characters is chosen with half the group reading the first part and the other half the second part – all group members are given the chance to read. Having collected the plays from the library Ann sits down to read them and cast the characters which can be a challenge, and quite often, having only three men in the group, a lady will have to take a man’s part. So a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes, so to speak.
The group meets monthly in group members’ homes and Ann feels that a home environment creates the warm atmosphere ideal for play reading. Chatter ensues before Ann brings them to order and the play reading starts. Homemade cakes are a feature of this group but the play is read in its entirety before refreshments are served. This is when the plays are discussed and the members give their opinions.
One play the group read was set in a dogs’ home and all the characters were dogs! Apparently it was quite a sad play but one dog was rather excitable and ran around shouting/barking ‘it’s me, it’s me’ which was enthusiastically read and caused much hilarity within the group, or as Ann says ‘had us in tucks’. Laughter is what they like and a farce or a comedy is their preferred choice. The play about the dogs was actually read at the 2002 U3A Christmas party and was enjoyed by all. The following year a play was acted which Ann says is a ‘bizarre thing of the past’!
Unfortunately this group is full, in fact bursting, and it is so successful that many members of the group have been with it since 2000 – a credit to Ann’s leadership.