By Mary Shen Barnidge, reprinted from Moulinet: An Action Quarterly, Number Two — 2007.
fight choreography by Chris Walsh
All right, we’ve got four frightened street waifs — one of them, a lanky transvestite in high heels and miniskirt — seeking to free their wounded companion from a sadistic greedhead, armed with an automatic pistol and a meat-hook, while the would-be rescuers’ arsenal consists of a butterfly knife and a revolver cached away earlier in the story. The play is a drag-’em-through-the-gutter-and- kick ’em-in-the-teeth British shocker by Philip Ridley, the setting is a condemned apartment strewn with debris, the fight is the climax of the plot, and the audience is seated close enough to the action to smell the sweat. Now, how is fight director Chris Walsh to deliver brutality commensurate with the story, without risk to persons on either side of the fourth wall?
“The script isn’t very specific on how the fights play out,” recalls Walsh, “The stage directions might say, ‘Darren and Lola attack Spinx. Spinx has the upper hand, but slowly they wear him down’. And Greg Beam, the director, also had a few ideas he wanted incorporated into the schematic. When we started, Lola was supposed to end the fight with a set of brass knuckles, but those didn’t read well under the lights.”
Keeping the rough stuff upstage takes advantage of the text-mandated dim lighting and the low barrier between stage and spectators provided by the set design. Additionally, the arc of the scene, while demanding that actors trade dialogue for long periods between sequences, allows for leisurely phrasing of physical transactions. “It was important to remove the guns from the equation as soon as possible, because there’s no reason for these people not to use a loaded firearm,” says Walsh, “But even so, I tried to tailor the fight to the actors — Spinx, for example, would benefit from extreme economy of movement because his physique lends an air of menace that would be diminished if he moved around too much.”
The results are a variety of movements incorporating bladework, wrestling and pugilistic hand-to-hand, capped by a coup-de-grace executed with a gas mask — an unlikely weapon, albeit established earlier as a potential bludgeon — all so closely integrated with the action and dialogue as to ascertain that our attention is never directed at the craft itself, but instead focused wholly on the social dynamic it reflects.