STAGE COMBAT, UNARMED: Roger Bartlett
Nick Hern Books (NHB)
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 22 09 16
Characters often do terrible things; here’s how to make them more terrible, and have safe fun.
Here’s a really useful book. It’s simple, easy to read, and totally practical.
Whenever I’ve worked on productions that have fights in them, I’m always amazed at how effective actors with fight directors can make them look. They often look so real I never cease to be worried that the actors will get hurt. Actors, as long as they are careful, never seem to worry about this and enter into fights usually with vigour and glee. This book concentrates on unarmed combat—and I never knew there were so many types.
Before Bartlett sets out anything in this book he stresses that you must work safely. He stresses it more than once. And he clearly sets out general rules for safety and special ones for particular kinds of combat.
Bartlett covers a vast array of attacks. Surprisingly, and somewhat deliciously, he begins with the Strangle, from in front and from behind. He then covers slaps, kicks, punches, pushes, jabs and many more. Each is covered in detail so, for instance, there’s the upstage/downstage slap, and the profile slap.
Whatever move Bartlett covers he sets out safety rules, the aggressor’s move, suggests the victim’s response and shows how the victim must be actively involved in each movement. He explains how to enhance the move with sound and precisely sets out the difference for combat between objective and intention (which are often the same in acting, but not in combat.)
A final chapter explains how to act the pain that goes with an attack. Elsewhere, though, he explains how the actor can avoid pain to themselves by falling both effectively and appropriately.
Reading through this combat manual it is clear that the content offers more than safe and effective ways to fight; it offers opportunities that may not have been thought of. In other words, actors can select and invent to be even more creative, and enjoy their result even more. Bartlett never forgets what he’s doing, though; he frequently moves the actor on from their reaction, to the character’s reaction.
The book is accompanied by a series of videos. These are short and filmed in a rehearsal type situation. They are fast moving and show, above all else, how truly disturbing the effects, properly achieved, are.
Actors and directors . . . enjoy!