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30th April 2014

How far should you push the violence?

Ronin Traynor reflects on The Hard Man
The Hard Man is a show I really wanted to work on, if for no other reason than I knew it would be a fight heavy show with lots of things to get my creative teeth into. However when reading the script and talking with the director and actors I came to realise that this show was going to be a bit different in my approach to the fights.

The play is co-written and based on the life of a real living person (Jimmy Boyle) and his journey into violence in the not too distant past. As such it felt like there was a sense of authenticity that needed to be achieved with the violence to do justice to the writing.

"You might imagine it to be grimly realistic. And there are plenty of grim things here: I could see a few people averting their eyes from some of the violence, which is brutally depicted."
Robbie Lumsden, Bargain Theatreland

I've worked on many theatre shows with all sorts of violence but many are family shows or don't have characters who seem to like inflicting violence as much as the characters in this story. Knowing that it was going to be a show aimed at an adult audience I pushed for making the violence as visceral as possible.

"The Hard Man is unrelenting and grim in the depiction of violence perpetrated by Byrne - and of that inflicted upon him ... Ronin Traynor choreographs the violence with chilling effect."
Dennis Poole, Morning Star

Irrespective of how Jimmy Boyle may have turned his life around or what circumstances pushed him into such a life of violence in the first place I felt there was a responsibility to show violence and aggression for what they are in real life; ugly, heart wrenching and despicable acts with real victims; and in the second half of the play Jimmy's character is the victim of an abusive prison system which is equally as ugly in its operations.

"Many, many scenes of hard and fast violence courtesy of expert fight director Ronin Traynor. This is an intensely physical production which shows the endless ways to brutalise another human being from skull cracking to eye gouging... the audience sits within a cockpit of violence and hyper-masculinity, observing a biography of brutality from its beginnings on the streets of Glasgow to its grotesque crescendo in prison with full frontal male nudity and shit smearing. It is truly shocking, and the civilised clapping of the audience at the end seems too polite... a visceral and gripping antidote to the smug and well worn theatre which graces so many of London’s stages." - 4.5 STARS
Mark Dominy, The Public Reviews

So, what made the violence different? Was there any special moves or tricks? Well, one of the main difference is that the choreography was unrelenting. Where one punch cold work, let's have 3.

Where a fist would suffice, let's use a baton. All these escalations were relevant to the characters and so did not feel like overdoing it.

"... genuinely frightening - especially one moment when Byrne, lying on the floor after attacking a prison guard, gets a fierce kick to the nose and flecks of blood and spit go flying across the stage." - 4 STARS
Timothy Bano, The Upcoming

Also importantly the cast were very capable and up for the action. With the Finborough Theatre being such an intimate theatre there was also nowhere the audience could sit back and disengage from the action happening in front of them. The set design, especially in the second act which largely took place in a giant cage reinforced a sense of helplessness for the main character.

"The Hard Man is claustrophobically brutal... The audience sit there, backs hunched, fists clenched, heart in mouth. Never has an interval felt so necessary. I ran into the cold March air just for a reprieve, to breath and escape. The production is technically superb."
Daniel Harrison, A Younger Theatre

I also think the story does something very simple but immensely effective. We generally dislike the main character, despite their charm, in the first half because of their unnecessary use of violence, so that when the tables are turned on them in the second half we feel somewhat pleased that they get a healthy dose of karma. However this is followed by a sense of guilt as the violence is turned up a notch with perpetual beatings and so we become emotionally vulnerable as an audience and can start to imagine what it’s like to either receive such animosity or to inflict it on others. With character's breaking the forth wall to pose such questions to the audience this is a hard hitting show is more ways than one.

"This is not a play for the feint of heart - it is a very heavy production. It deals with excessively violent imagery and gore as well as difficult to watch scenes of sexual assault... This is a brutal production, but it is also an excellent one, and will certainly leave audiences both repelled and drawn in to such a violent and thought provoking evening of theatre." - 4 STARS
Emily Pulham, Everything Theatre

The Hard Man was defiantly as rewarding a project to work on as I hoped and think we made the right choice not to shy away from the realism of the violence. As with most good theatre the show was entertaining, though provoking, emotionally engaging and had great casting.

"It was both visceral and almost emotionally eviscerating; one of the hardest hitting and engaging pieces of theatre I've had the pleasure of watching, which left me with that lovely feeling you get sometimes of being for some moments rooted to your seat, still in the world that had been created, and having to readjust to your own after the house lights are up."
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