A cast member of King Lear saw Geoffrey Rush “cup” the breast of his co-star Eryn Jean Norvill during a performance and make a “boob-squeezing gesture” in rehearsals that looked like a “Three Stooges skit”.

Mark Leonard Winter, who played Edgar in the 2015-16 production, told the ninth day of Mr Rush’s defamation case that the breast touching lasted about five seconds.

He insisted he saw Mr Rush’s right hand on Ms Norvill’s left breast in a “hand-cupping” motion and that the “nipple was not covered”.

“It was around the bottom of the breast – the side and the bottom of the breast …

“It was long enough for me to have a series of thoughts that took me outside the action of the play.”

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Asked for how long he said: “I had about four or five thoughts – a thought a second and half. I would say around five seconds.”

Ms Norvill has testified that Mr Rush touched her right breast during a preview performance and that it lasted for eight to 10 seconds.

“I had my eyes closed,” she said. “Geoffrey placed his hand on my face and then his other hand touched under my armpit, and stroked down my, across my right breast and on to my hip.”

Bruce McClintock, SC, for Mr Rush, put to Mr Winter that “it would be impossible for Mr Rush’s right hand to touch her right side … that’s why you said it touched her left side”.

When the barrister suggested Mr Winter never saw the incident, he answered: “I can say unequivocally his hand touched her breast … my recollection was his right hand was on her left breast.”

Mr Rush is suing News Corp, publisher of The Daily Telegraph, in the Federal Court over a poster and two articles in late 2017 that said the Sydney Theatre Company had received a complaint accusing him of “inappropriate behaviour” towards a cast member, who was later identified as Ms Norvill.

Mr Rush says the articles accused him of being a “pervert, a sexual predator and of inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature”.

Mr Winter said that in rehearsals he saw Mr Rush “doing a bit of a skit over EJ [Eryn Jean]” during the final scene of the play, in which King Lear grieves over Cordelia.

He described it as a “Three Stooges-y style skit”.

“The whole thing, it was a sequence of quick jokes – like a joky gesture.”

Mr Tom Blackburn, SC: “What was the gesture?

Mr Winter: “A boob-squeezing gesture.”

On Tuesday, Ms Norvill said she had her eyes closed but heard “hisses of laughter”.

“I opened my eyes and Geoffrey was kneeling over me and had both of his hands above my torso and he was gesturing, stroking up and down my torso gesturing, groping and cupping my breast.

“He was raising his eyebrows, bulging his eyes and licking his lips.”

Mr Winter said he “saw no distress [on the part of Ms Norvill] during the rehearsal or the performance, but I certainly know there were some distressing moments for her during the performance”.

Mr Winter said he had told Mr Rush’s solicitor that “this was pre #MeToo and it was a strange thing that occurred”.

“It happened and then we moved on,” he said. “It wasn’t something I dwelled on.”

Mr Winter said he had been “desperately trying to avoid” newspaper reports of the case.

Justice Michael Wigney: “Me too.”

The court has made public a memo by Sydney Theatre Company manager Annelies Crowe which says she found Ms Norvill in distress at a close-of-show party, and that she “assumed” that Oscar-winning Mr Rush was the reason, “knowing Geoffrey’s reputation”.

The trial continues.

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