In his third blog post Michael discusses fight choreography and Edmund's relationship to the other characters in the play.
Transcript of Podcast
This week I have been rehearsing the ‘fight’ scenes. These scenes are fun to rehearse, but they are very violent. We are using machetes and chains. The machetes are very sharp, so safety has become an important factor in rehearsals. The decision to use machetes and chains was made before we began the rehearsal process. There are three themes in King Lear that begin with ‘T’. These are ‘totalitarianism’, ‘timeless pastoral’ and ‘terrorism’. The idea of using chains and machetes is to fit in with the theme of ‘terrorism’. I think that they look more violent than guns.
The 9 o’clock newsreader Michael Burke, foreign correspondent, was often given a knife to defend himself when he was in dangerous situations abroad. When he gave up this job, he was allowed to talk about what really happened in these situations, rather than the sanitised scenes shown on the news. The reality is horrendous, but it is never shown. We wanted our production to show the reality of such violence.
We have had sessions with a fight choreographer (the man who is in the ‘Strongbow’ advertisements!), who has been teaching us moves. The session we had this morning highlighted the importance of sustaining eye contact and concentration to ensure that both people in the sequence are safe at all times. We have to be very aware of the other person and make sure that they are ready. We are progressing from learning moves to creating sequences of body positions. The way in which the body is used is very important, as it tells a story. If done in the right way, both attack and defence can be demonstrated, without the ‘fighters’ having to make physical contact.
The principle rule that the choreographer told us was to never trust your fight partner. If the person is coming towards you, you must imagine that they are going to hit you and so you move. This makes it more realistic; it also helps to ensure that the fighters are kept safe.
Both Edgar's and Edmund's approaches to the fight are very different. Edgar has righteous indignation on his side. Edmund's attitude is ‘cool’; he seems to fit the role of the ‘baddie’. The way that the two characters move in the fight is effected by their attitudes towards the fight. Someone who was not frightened would be bending slightly, to move in closer. A frightened character would hold their body rigid.
In rehearsals we went through the first of the two ‘Gloucester’ scenes, when Edmund carries out the first part of his plan. We have made the decision that Edmund does not have a main ambition; his plans simply grows as he successes do. At the beginning, Edmund does not display confidence, or arrogance.Traditionally, Edmund is a cool, charming, handsome, daredevil man. In our production he is quite ‘gawky’.
Edmund, in relation to the rest of the play, is an outsider. This is first shown, in our production, at his first appearance. While the other characters are on stage, Edmund is in the yard. There will be a wooden pole in the yard with a wheel at the top of it. I will have to climb up the pole and talk to the characters on the stage from this position (I am worried about how I will get up the pole, and how long I will have to stay on it!). This physical distance is symbolic to Edmund's position in the world of the play. What kind of impact will that have on the audience and the staging of the play? I had not envisaged Edmund's position like that; I had imagined him to have a larger part in the world of the stage.
In his first soliloquy, Edmund is planning out what he is going to do. He is also trying to justify what he is and what his actions are. In some ways it is difficult for a modern actor to fully understand many of the ideas and motives that he is talking about. However, these ideas would have been very important at the time when the play was first written. There was a belief that people, whose origins were illicit and stealthy, were illicit and stealthy themselves. However, if you were born to an orthodox marriage, you were considered to be ‘normal’. Edmund is an illegitimate child and therefore his origins are considered to be illicit.
Paul (Brennen, Edgar) and I rehearsed the scene when Edmund is ‘helping’ Edgar to escape. The staging of the scene is very funny as Edgar is frightened that he will be caught, so he roles across the stage and crawls around on his elbows as if trying to be inconspicuous.
An interesting point in the play that I have been thinking about is when Albany accuses Edmund of being a "most violent traitor", as Albany is a traitor himself. He is committing treason by working against the king. I feel that during the times when the play was written, this may have been worse than what Edmund was doing. How would the Elizabethan audience respond to this? What would be their idea of treachery?
I have also been thinking about Edmund's ‘relationships’ with Goneril and Regan. The relationship with Goneril seems to be ‘brittle’. It is not an explicit relationship, it is ambiguous. There are points when the audience might be aware that something has happened, or will happen. An example of this is when Cornwall sends Edmund away, just before he gouges out Gloucester's eyes. At the same time, Goneril is returning to Albany. Something happens on the way to where they are going; because in the next scene Goneril enters with her hair dishevelled (it had been scraped back before that). This does not mean that they have consummated their relationship, but it does signify a change that has taken place in Goneril. She now seems more relaxed. I think that it is better to leave it ambiguous because the tension and potential to what may happen is more interesting than the actuality of something happening.
In the next stage of rehearsals, we will be looking closely at the second half of the play. I think it will be very interesting to begin physically rehearsing it on stage.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.