The killings take place in rapid succession: swords to the midsection, knives across the throat. Bodies crumble to the ground.
In 20 seconds of stage time in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” audiences witness four killings. Fight scenes, which play a pivotal role in the outcome of the power struggle at the center of the play, are a big part of a fight-filled season at the Theater at Monmouth. This summer, five of the six shows at Monmouth include stage fighting.
Fight choreographer Leighton Samuels keeps the storytelling crisp, the action believable, and the actors safe. The challenge this year is the number of fight scenes, as well as the different kinds of weapons, which span centuries.
For “Henry V,” set in the 1400s, that means broadswords and shields, as the ruthless English king goes to war against France and against all odds. He wins, vanquishing his enemy, but at a heavy cost. The play includes three major battles. In one, there are 18 actors on stage with swords, said Blythe Coons, who plays dual roles in “Henry V.”
“It goes without saying that we have to be careful,” she said. “But the key is being careful and convincing at the same time. It’s a lot of work.”
It is much like a dance. During rehearsals for one epic but brief scene, Samuels and play director Mark Mineart worked with individual actors engaged in one-on-one combat in context with the movements of the cast as a whole. To keep the story clean and the narrative moving, it’s important that each death happen distinctly and in close succession. As one victim falls stage left, another sword is plunged stage right.
It takes two hours to stage the 20 seconds of fighting and many more hours of rehearsal – much in slow motion – to perfect it. It happens so fast on stage, audiences might miss the nuances and details of each conflict.
“It’s all about timing,” said actor Erica Murphy. “It takes a lot of practice to give the illusion of real danger.”
WHEN: Performed in repertory through Aug. 20, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 30; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6; 1 p.m. Aug. 7; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11; 7 p.m. Aug. 14; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16; 1 p.m. Aug. 17; 1 p.m. Aug. 20
WHERE: Theater at Monmouth, 796 Main St., Monmouth
TICKETS & INFO: $20 to $32; 933-9999 or theateratmonmouth.org