22:22, October 29 289 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-29 22:22:06
Eryn Jean Norvill alleges Geoffrey Rush touched her breast and left her frightened

The actor at the centre of accusations against Geoffrey Rush has claimed the actor “deliberately” touched her breast in front of an audience during a a 2015 stage production of King Lear, saying she felt “trapped” and “frightened” by the Oscar-winner’s behaviour.

On Tuesday Eryn Jean Norvill told the federal court that she had been made to feel “belittled” and “embarrassed” by Rush’s behaviour during the production, describing a “pressured” and “stressful” environment in which the rest of the cast was “complicit” in endorsing Rush’s behaviour.

Speaking for the first time since Sydney’s Daily Telegraph published allegations about Rush’s behaviour during the production, Norvill told the court she had endured a pattern of conduct including groping gestures, “sexual innuendo” and unwanted touching from the Hollywood star during the lead-up to the production.

“I felt shocked,” she said. “I guess I was confused. I mean, Geoffrey, I considered Geoffrey a friend. I felt belittled and embarrassed and I guess shamed.”

Rush is suing the Telegraph over a series of articles published at the end of November and the beginning of December in 2017 alleging he behaved inappropriately towards Norvill during a 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

The Telegraph is mounting a truth defence, claiming Rush engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behaviour towards Norvill during the play.

The court has previously heard that during rehearsals for the play Rush had made groping gestures above Norvill’s breasts while she lay on stage with her eyes closed.

Rush has denied it took place, but on Tuesday Norvill described the alleged encounter to the court.

“I was lying on my back on the floor and I remember Geoffrey had stopped talking,” she said. “He was delivering [a] monologue grieving over Cordelia. He’d stopped talking. I can’t remember if he was looking for a line or Neil [Armfield, the play’s director] was giving him a note.

“I had my eyes closed [and] I remember hearing titters of laughter, murmuring responses around the rehearsal room and I opened my eyes and Geoffrey was kneeling over me and he had both of his hands above my torso and he was stroking, gesturing up and down my torso [and] groping above my breasts and he was looking up to the front of the room and kind of rising his eyebrows, bulging his eyes, smiling, licking his lips.”

The court previously heard that during previews of the play Rush had traced his fingers over the side of Norvill’s right breast during one scene. Rush has denied the claim, but Norvill described the scene.

“She said that while she was onstage she remembered Rush “placed his hand on my face and then his other hand touched under my armpit or just near my armpit and stroked down my across my right side of my right breast and on to my hip”.

“He had maybe three or four fingers and he was halfway up my breast; [he] didn’t touch my nipple, I don’t think.

“It couldn’t have been an accident because it was slow and pressured.”

She said the reason she had not raised Rush’s behaviour were “cumulative a cacophonous”.

“I was at the bottom of the rung in terms of hierarchy and Geoffrey was definitely at the top,” she said. “That was at play – I have to be honest and say his power was intimidating and this person, I wanted to be a part of his world.

“We were also playing father and daughter [and] I felt that if I was to speak [it] might jeopardise, I would jeopardise that relationship, the tenderness, the closeness [that] is needed in those two roles.

“Everyone else didn’t seem to have a problem about it ... I was looking at a room that was complicit, my director didn’t seem to have a problem with it so I felt quashed in terms terms of my ability to find allies.

“And again Geoffrey was, I wanted him to be, my mentor.”

The hearing continues