31. James Stanton meets ‘Kombat Kate’ Waters, who trains theatre actors in how to ‘fight’ on stage.
There must be few occasions when it would be really rude to refuse an invitation to head-butt someone
you’ve just met! But I’m in one of those right now. I’m in a rehearsal room in a theatre with a group of
actors, facing up to stage fighting director Kate Waters. I’ve already dragged her around the room and
slapped her on the arm. Now she wants me to head-butt her. But fear not, this is all strictly pretend!
‘Imagine there’s a tin can on my shoulder,’ she says. ‘Now try to knock it off.’ I lower my head as instructed,
then lift it sharply, aiming for the imaginary can, hoping desperately that I don’t miscalculate the angle and
end up doing damage to her face. To my amazement, I get it right. ‘That was good,’ says Waters. ‘Now
maybe try it again without smiling.’
Waters, known in the industry as Kombat Kate, is showing me how actors fight each other without getting
hurt, and that includes sword-fighting. (She inspires fierce devotion: when I tweet that I’m meeting Waters,
one actress friend responds: ‘She’s amazing. She taught me how to be a secret service agent in two days.’)
Perhaps the most famous play Kate has worked on recently was called Noises Off. She taught the cast how to
fall down stairs without breaking any bones. One of the fight scenes is fairly close, Kate tells me, to the one
we’re trying out now. ‘I’ve just slowed it down a bit,’ she says tactfully, before inviting me to throw her
against the wall. I obey, making sure I let go of her quickly, so she can control her own movement. Push your
opponent too hard, and they will hit the wall for real. I watch her hit the wall before falling to the ground.
She’s fine, of course. ‘That’s my party trick,’ she says with a grin. ‘Works every time.’
Once the lesson is over Kate tells me how she became one of only two women on the official register of stage
fight directors. Already a keen martial arts expert from childhood, Kate did drama at university, and one
module of her course introduced her to stage combat. When she made enquiries about the possibility of
teaching it as a career, she was told about the register and the qualifications she’d need to be accepted onto it.
It was no small order: as well as a certificate in advanced stage combat, she would need a black belt in karate
and proficiency in fencing, a sport she’d never tried before.
When Kate and the writer repeat the fight scene from Noises Off, we learn that