TRICKS OF THE TRADE

14: HOW TO STAGE A FIGHT; TERRY KING Fight Director of the `Pirates of Penzance' at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
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The Independent Culture
No two fights are the same. Some are supposed to be vicious, but others are just Tom-and-Jerry panto affairs.

The tricks we use are pretty much the same whether it's for King Lear or the Pirate King: it's the way it's choreographed that makes each fight different. In stage fighting, two actors are co-operating not combating, so the moves require an action and a reaction. An added noise at the right time encourages the audience to believe in what is happening.

In sword play, the moves are taken from reality - one person attacks and the other parries. As it's a piece of choreography, person A knows where person B is going to attack, so they can defend themselves accordingly.

If the attacker stretches out an arm towards the victim but simultaneously moves back, it looks like the victim is being stabbed. It's often the speed of the movement that deceives the eye. Stabbing under the arm is a bit of a cliche, but it's certainly effective. With any move, if the victim reacts correctly and at the right moment, it will work.

There's also an art to falling over. In any situation the impact must be absorbed, a bit like the principle of the parachute fall. If the actor is falling forward, they will stick out a foot, or there may be a mattress hidden behind the furniture or under a piece of carpet to cushion the blow. Sometimes they wear body padding, but only as a margin for error. We don't encourage actors to land hard constantly.

There are all sorts of ways of dealing with blood. It's usually contained in a polythene pouch which can be concealed almost anywhere. It might be held in the hand and the actor will simply clutch the right area. Alternatively, there might be a bag under the armpit, a bit like a drip bag that you see in hospitals, which will have a tube going to the wound. In the theatre, blood should always be used sparingly, as it is difficult to control and often turns pink. An audience will question the action if there is too much blood, so it must be understated.

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