If there was ever a dull moment in the “Robin Hood” script, it’s likely the author, Larry Blamire, replaced it with an action scene.
“The author felt it necessary to describe all those action scenes in crushing detail,” said director Rachel Ost. “Nobody fights just to fight. Part of the fighting is always part of the storytelling.”
“Robin Hood” has nineteen scenes—all of which are broken up by “stage combat.”
“Any time one is violent onstage, it’s tricky,” Ost said. “Corban theatre is an educational program, meaning the people coming in most likely don’t have prior training. Adding violence means you’re dealing with untrained individuals in unpredictable circumstances. I take that responsibility seriously.”
Ost was able to accommodate the need for safe stage combat by hiring on Jonathan Cole—a trained professional in stage combat directing.
“I’m a certified teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD),” Cole said. “The SAFD recognizes eight specific weapons/disciplines (plus guns). Those eight include: Unarmed, Broadsword, Quarterstaff, Sword and Shield, Single Sword [sabre, single rapier, Hollywood swashbuckling], Rapier and Dagger, Smallsword and Knife.”
The SAFD requires eighty hours of training in each of the above-listed disciplines in order to apply for their director’s program. Before apply at SAFD, Cole studied for ten years in other non-recognized martial arts disciplines. Cole has a black belt in jujitsu, intermediate or advanced degrees in nearly all other Japanese martial arts and used to teach or train defensive tactics for police and prison guards.
“A lot of what I do seems like it’s terribly interesting and really sort of attractive," Cole said, "because one gets to run with pointy objects (that’s always a good thing). But everything about what we do is safety first. To get good at stage combat you need to be safe, and then be dramatically effective within that given framework of safety.”
“Theatre is all about illusion, and stage combat has some of the most illusive illusions that I’ve ever seen performed,” Ost said. “We can control believability by depth perception and angle of attack.”
Within the fight scenes, actors focus on controlling their movements.
“The most difficult aspect is timing transitions between different swings” said Andrew Holcombe. “Guy of Gisbourne fights two people at once, so I have to be careful with how I hit swords and how I swing a mace at two moving people. The fight is supposed to look savage or sloppy (with flailing all over the place).”
Under the tutelage of Ost and Cole, different actors have been given different fighting styles in order to enhance the complexity of their character.
“The main characters all have a different fighting style,” Cole said. “Robbin Hood’s style is referencing, very heavily, Errol Flynn and swashbuckling movies of the Silver Screen era. Little John has a couple of moves that are pulled from shaolin long form Kung Fu and aikibojitsu. The Sheriff uses specialized German longsword techniques that come from Hans Talhoffer.”
“No one is going to come because they don’t know the story of Robin Hood,” said Ost. “Everyone knows he robs from the rich and gives to the poor. One comes to see real people with real (not sharp) swords, in fabulous costumes, in this fabulous location, really fighting for justice. There’s something iconic about a sword in itself for this time period. The use of them is unique.”