Using Physical theatre in your production

Stylised movement

Imagine a production of Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. Usually we hear about the battle at the start of the play. How would it affect the production if instead we saw the fighting in a stylised fashion with the witches clearly controlling the action as though they were puppeteers? Kenneth Branagh’s 2013 production of Macbeth was hailed for its physicality, particularly during the battle scene at the beginning of the play.

Physical theatre can also be used in the way director, Steven Berkoff used it in The Trial, to provide the scene, whether this is furniture for a room or a busy street. The use of people to create everything allows great opportunities for dynamic impact. In The Trial, it was the cast, very simple frames and a rope on an empty performance area that created the whole staging.

Steven Berkoff’s The Trial, the Byre Theatre, 2012
Credit: George Riddell, Blackeyed Theatre's The Trial (2012)

Combining art forms

Physical theatre has a focus on movement but can be separate from the spoken word or united with it to expand and explore its meaning. It may well be devised or contain substantial elements of work beyond the printed script. These elements could be other art forms such as music, dance, the use of media or visual images. So you could use a combination of elements that may also be combined with script, for instance. You could reach out to the audience in a way that challenges the so-called fourth wall, making the audience a collaborator in the action. (It’s not unusual for Physical theatre to actually encourage or demand audience participation.)

Nick Phillips and David Toole in In Water I'm Weightless
National Theatre Wales' production In Water I’m Weightless was performed by a cast of six deaf and disabled performers and took a provocative look at the human body Credit: Farrows Creative / National Theatre Wales.