We’ve done two days of intensive preparation & rehearsal, working solidly from early morning & into late afternoon with only the shortest of breaks. The piece is now very roughly finished. Both fight sequences have been carefully structured so as to accommodate that fascinating paradox of theatre - apparent spontaneity achieved only through the application of rigorous planning.
The first battle – principally between Tybalt & Mercutio, but also incorporating Benvolio, Romeo & Tybalt’s two henchmen – is a whirlwind of flying sticks. Each fighting pair has a routine worked out comprising a sequence of specific set pieces based on broadsword or quarterstaff techniques. These are embellished with various elements unique to each pair – swings at the head or feet, sticks locked together, one stick trapping the other on the ground, lunges, swipes, parries & blocks. The flurry of activity is accompanied by all sorts of Wimbledon centre court grunts & gasps & a brutal musical soundtrack. When Romeo suddenly steps between Mercutio & Tybalt to stop the fighting the vigorous action ceases instantly & the mortal wounding of Mercutio is done in dreamlike slo-mo.
The second fight – between Tybalt & Romeo – starts with a stick routine & then, with the loss of both sticks, breaks into wrestling. The technique used here is called ‘sticky bodies’. It’s based on a simple principle whereby the combatants have to ensure that their bodies are always touching at some point. So arm will stick to arm & then back will attach to back, head to head, leg to leg & so on. It’s remarkably effective because there is created a sense of wild, flailing fighting without any need for grips, holds or blows. At a signal Tybalt trips Romeo & seizes a stick from the edge of the circle. Romeo scrambles up & grabs one from the opposite side & there is a blur of quarterstaff combat (the sticks held in the centre with the hands a couple of feet apart & pushed towards each other at alternating angles) the ends clashing together in a very rapid criss-cross routine. After six of these sallies, Romeo’s stick hooks Tybalt’s away from his body, tips over & stabs Tybalt in the side.
We have the fight sequences more or less organised now & on Sunday we shall tidy up a couple of the dialogue sections & then bolt the entire piece together. I’m enormously impressed at the actors’ feel for the language. I’ve had to do very little basic comprehension explanation; I’ve been able to work on interpretation of text from the start. And their appetite for the fighting is almost frightening. Given that the piece is implicitly a female commentary on male violence, it’s been fascinating to watch the five girls throwing themselves into the physicality of the routines with such gusto! Most of all, I’m impressed with (even a little alarmed by) the girls’ acuteness of perception & focused analysis of the way in which appetite feeds inclination in respect of male violence. Shakespeare provides it in the text, of course, but the girls’ work is underpinned by a consciousness that is all their own.
On Sunday afternoon, if we complete performance rehearsal during the 4-hour morning session, we’ll take Violent Delights into Hitchin to road test it. It’s the Rhythms of the World weekend – an annual free world music festival - & the town will be full of willing audience material. On Monday we’ll go to Cambridge to perform in the market square & on Tuesday & Wednesday – train services permitting – we’ll go down to London & present Violent Delights on the Thames Embankment, just under the London Eye. We’ve discussed the unintended relevance of the themes of the piece in the light of the events of yesterday & are sure that their dark irony won’t be lost on whatever audiences we may attract so relatively close to the sites of the bombings.
It’s a good way to wind up the entire career carnival – working on a small production with a group of dedicated kids, free of all distractions, with unimpeded access to both theatre & studio from 9.00 to 5.00.