Sunday: the company worked on the final fight sequence, where Richmond kills Richard, bringing about unity and the Tudor era. Battles are crucial to the history plays because they illustrate the on-going War of the Roses to the audience in a tangible way. Jeremy West volunteered to be the fight choreographer for Richard III and came up with ideas about how they should stage each “moment of violence,” as he terms them, before rehearsal. He has 10 years of experience choreographing fights and it shows in his technical knowledge about what the actor must do to suspend disbelief for the audience. His main goal is to make sure that the actors are as safe as possible while performing a fight sequence that looks as realistic as possible.
He detailed each move for the actors himself before they stepped in to take over the scene, first performing it in slow motion to acclimate their bodies to the movements. He explained to the actors the technical information of how the body would react to such a wound, so that they were able to visualize performing each maneuver. I was surprised to find that the slightest movement can drastically affect the believability of a punch. After explaining the technical side of it, Jeremy related what is happening in the story during that scene and how the fight enhances that moment. As a fight choreographer, he has a lot of room to influence characterization, since Shakespeare leaves many stage directions for fights ambiguous.
The stage direction for one of the fights they choreographed states, “Alarum, Enter RICHARD and RICHMOND; they fight. Richard is slain. Then retreat being sounded, exit Richmond, and Richard’s body is removed. Flourish.” Jeremy thought that the story they could tell through the choreography between Ben Curns (Richard) and Gregory Jon Phelps (Richmond) is that Richard has more brute force than Richmond who is of a smaller build, but that Richard’s overconfidence allows Richmond to serve him a fatal blow. This is based partly on the physical build of the actors, and partly on his reading of the characters in the play. All of the actors agreed on this narrative and used it to fill in the gaps in choreography, when there are lulls in the movements to ensure safety because the actors are not actually fighting.
After he advised on the technical and dramatic impact of this moment in the production, Jeremy watched the fight from various angles to ensure that it looks natural to the greatest amount of people in the audience. Often he asked the actors to move upstage to block the vantage points where it is obvious that the punches and sword fighting are merely fabricated. At one point, they even asked me to sit on a gallant stool so they could become accustomed to having audience members on stage throughout the fight, as will happen during performances. No one said watching rehearsals was going to be easy! The acoustics of the Blackfriars, particularly when sitting on a gallant stool, mean that the fights are incredibly impactful because every clink of the swords reverberates through the audience. The actors in Shakespeare’s company would have had a great deal of technical knowledge about swordsmanship, as would those in his audience, so it is fitting that many of the ASC actors have also been technically trained for these scenes.