Thursday 25th January. Rehearsals... FIGHT DAY.
This morning we had an early call and were introduced to Philip d'Orléans our Stage Combat expert; for someone whose trade it is to make extreme violence look realistic in performance, he is one of the gentlest and most relaxed people you will meet. A good thing really because the most important thing about fighting on stage is safety.
When in performance you are adrenalised and full of energy, any characters perpetrating acts of violence will be channelling emotion but the actor must remain in complete control even if the character isn’t. It is imperative all moments are choreographed and drilled to ensure no harm comes to any of your fellow actors. However it still needs to look convincing. I’m sure we’ve all seen shows where the fights look comical and unrealistic so there is an important balance to strike.
One of the keys is making eye contact with your partner and ensuring you are both ready and complicit in the moment. Then there is a consideration of where your weight is in your body, when you might tense or release tension, how close you are to contacting each other and when the reactions come.
We looked at Compeyson and Magwitch’s fight on the marshes. Compeyson is manacled so has limited use of his hands and arms. Also we must be aware that the chain is metal so contact with a cheek or mouth could result in a black eye or split lip! I am playing the soldier who restrains him and I’m considerably shorter (and more feminine!) than James Dinsmore at 6ft 2 so it needs to be plausible that someone of my stature could overpower him. Philip directs me to grab him by the scruff of his shirt, lock arms with him beneath the elbow and then I am able to grab the chain at the front. By bending my knees, planting my feet wide apart and putting tension into my arms I can make it look like I am able to restrain him successfully. Like wise James Camp can capture Magwitch by trapping his arms behind his back and disabling him from behind, however he must be careful to keep his elbows low so as not to wrench Dan's arms upwards and hurt his shoulders.
We also looked at the 2 moments when Estella slaps people. Slaps, Philip says, can be the hardest things to do effectively. It is too easy for the force behind them to be misjudged in the moment if real contact is made so they should be done with no contact at all where possible. A good reaction from the receiver and a knap - one of the pair making the sound of the slap surreptitiously - make them look convincing. Eye contact is essential for you to judge the distance, too close and you’ll really hit the person, too far away and the audience will sniff out the fakery! In act 1 I slap Pip as a 7 year old girl. This should look spiteful and shocking but in the spirit of a child. Later in act 2 I slap Bentley Drummle, I am a woman now and there is much more anger behind the action. The choreography is the same but the intention different; what is a quick, light move in act 1 becomes a more powerful full bodied physicalisation in act 2.
One of my favourite moments in the show is the initial meeting of Pip and Herbert as children at Satis House. Herbert picks a fight with Pip and though he has a great sportsman’s spirit he is a terrible boxer. He makes 3 attempts to punch Pip and loses each time. All it takes is 3 carefully positioned and choreographed strikes for Herbert to end sprawling on the floor. This is going to be a brilliantly comic moment in the show but it comes out of a fight that will look real and truthful.