Blog - Violence & Theatre

Our Assistant Director Nikki Kalkman will be blogging for us over the next couple of weeks and in this blog she some insights about our exciting adaptation of Queen Lear and some of the action you can expect to see!

Violence and Theatre

Blood, guts and gore. It’s fairly mainstream these days. It’s hard to turn on the television or sit down with your cinema popcorn and not be bombarded by a cacophony of violent and bloody images. Sword fights, car crashes, bloody knuckles and rapid-fire bullets can become as much a part of a story’s vocabulary as the characters or plot.

They can also be completely gratuitous.

But I’m making no judgements here. Lots of us like to sit down and enjoy the five billionth instalment of Michael Bay’s action-packed-plot-hole-riddled-it’s-dead-already-let-the-franchise-rest-in-peace Transformers films. Each to their own right?

Hand in the air, I will admit I do enjoy a bit of swash-buckling, or some fast-paced outer space action, or a dramatic western shoot out. I mean not all at the same time - even Bay couldn’t make all those fit together coherently. Or maybe he could. I mean they just announced a seventh Transformers film, so who knows? Seven films, people! SEVEN!

But I will admit that tuning out the hustle and bustle of a busy week with a good old-fashioned shoot-‘em-up isn’t a half bad way to spend a Saturday.

When it comes to violence in theatre it’s a far less passive experience for all involved - audience, performers and creative team. This week of Queen Lear rehearsals has focused intensely on creating several dramaturgically strong, believable moments of stage violence, that not only look ‘awesome with a capital A’, but are safe for both the performers and the audience. It’s a hefty challenge. The violence needs to look and feel real while remaining completely harmless. We need a perfectly rehearsed sequence that looks aggressive and immediate. It needs to feel dangerous. It needs to be a visceral experience for all involved - the audience doesn’t have the luxury of sitting behind a glossy big screen. They may only be a few feet from these moments of violence. So how do you make them believe it and be affected by it? And even enjoy it? While still making sure no one ends up actually bloodied or bruised.

A hefty challenge, indeed.

I have watched, over the last few days, as the cast has risen to this task, and with courage and conviction worked with our fantastic Fight Director EmmaClaire Brightlyn to create some truly Awesome (please note the capital A) fight sequences.

Now, without giving too much away, there are three key moments of violence within Queen Lear. Each one varies in severity, weapon choice and intention. Each one has been carefully choreographed and will be rehearsed daily until opening night on July 14th and then continually prepped for safety before every performance. It’s been an educational week for me. One of the best nuggets of wisdom that I’ve taken from the last few days has been that the presence of a weapon in a scene should drastically shift that moment’s tension. I say should because it’s not always the case. I’m looking at you Michael Bay.

Stephanie McGregor and EmmaClaire Brightlyn fighting it out in rehearsals 

Stephanie McGregor and EmmaClaire Brightlyn fighting it out in rehearsals 

EmmaClaire, on one of the first days of rehearsal, summed it up beautifully. If someone walks into a bar with a sword every human in that bar is going to suddenly feel quite different about that space. Weapons alter an environment - for better or worse, they are immediate instigator of change.

Don’t believe me? Think back to the last time you saw an armed police officer. Did you find your eyes on the weapon they were holding? I bet you they did. Did your stomach tighten up just a little bit? My money would be on yes. It’s because humans are built with a primal instinct to stay alive - to live to taste our Coco Pops the next day - and when a recognisable weapon, of any calibre, is introduced into a space the dynamics change dramatically, as every human becomes aware of the danger that the weapon implies. Even if that danger is unlikely or controlled it is still a danger and our brains are going to make damn sure we know about it.

But what does this have to do with an old Queen who is losing her reason, I hear you ask? Well, everything actually. In the first scene of the performance the audience are introduced to the show’s first weapon… and, would you believe it, it’s carried by a woman.

No, I’m not trying to be glib. It is actually a bit of a big deal.

Violent women are still a fairly uncommon trope on stage and screen. The idea is surrounded by a plethora of gender politics, stereotypes and taboos. Who would have thought weapon-wielding ladies could cause so much strife? But for this production, the creative team are going on an interesting and detailed journey to ensure that the violence and weapons presented within the story are as completely understood and as detailed as the plot and characters, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.   

In fact, the dynamics of each act of violence or threat is something that we’ve debated a great deal during rehearsals:

  • Who has a weapon?
  • Why do they have it?
  • Are they trained to use it?
  • Would they use it?
  • What are the different levels of threat between a drawn weapon and a holstered one?
  • When do our characters draw, and then raise, their weapons?
  • Why?
  • What is the response to this weapon by the other characters in the scene?

All of these questions act as the foundation of understanding for these moments of violence and will help us create a world in which the violence can believably exist. This understanding, coupled with EmmaClaire’s kick-butt-and-take-no-prisoners Fight Direction is going to make for some very exciting action indeed.

Come along and see for yourself.