There's nothing West Belfast actor Philip Rafferty likes more than a good brawl — providing no one gets hurt.

For as a stage combat instructor, the Andytown man's job is to ensure theatrical Donnybrooks are shockingly realistic and surprisingly safe.

"Success for me means choreographing a stand-up, knockdown fight which has the audience wincing at every punch thrown even as every actor is fully protected from harm."

For some fight scenes, that can mean showing an actor how to land in a way which minimises the impact - with the fall softened with ample padding.

"In a recent Lyric production, we had to work with an actor in her seventies who had to  fall violently during a fracas," explains Philip. "My job was to ensure that she wasn't injured. After all, she had to fall once a night and twice on Saturdays for the entire run of the play. Safety always comes first when preparing a fight scene and the key to safety is to do the scene over and over again. The secret to falling is to tuck in your chin, don't use your hand to cushion the impact as that is a sure way to break it and to fall instead on the padding."

A graduate of the Rose Bruford school of acting, Philip is on a mission to bring the famed English school to Belfast on a permanent, accredited basis. "I am teaching on a Rose Bruford course here but it doesn't lead to an accredited qualification and that's something I'd like to put right by teaming up with a local university," he adds. "The Rose Bruford courses are intense and excellent but it's a shame that at the end of the six month programme, the students don't have an accredited certificate."

Philip has worked with international studios making movies in Belfast but says that the bigger productions have their own travelling combat instructors. "More film work would be great but I have enjoyed several local theatre career highlights. I was delighted to work on fight scenes in both the Good Vibrations musical which has just enjoyed a long run in New York and on the Beauty Queen of Leenane in the Lyric."

The former La Salle pupil says he knew he wanted to be an actor from an early age. "I was a member of Youth Action and had parts in plays they staged. I was always highly competitive and enjoyed physical activity so the role of stage combat instructor was one that fitted well with me."

Philip's ambition is to continue to break into the world of acting and to take on bolder and bigger stage combat instruction roles. "Sadly, to really break through you often have to leave these shores," he adds. "There just isn't enough well-paid work here or enough opportunities. However, if we could get the Rose Bruford school a firmer foothold here in Belfast, there would be more opportunities for wannabe actors locally."

It's said that in Hollywood, all the restaurant staff are in fact actors waiting for their big break. Leaving behind the waiter's apron is always a sign that fame beckons - in which case, Philip has taken his own big step forward; last month he gave up his job as a waiter at the Grand Central Café to take up his latest post with the Rose Bruford Belfast programme. Break a leg, Philip! Or perhaps not!