BWW Interview: Patrick Neil Doyle Battles in MACBETH
Scotsman Patrick Neil Doyle, 23, prepares for his New York stage debut in MACBETH, by rehearsing his battle technique. He also plays a whistle-type instrument and has been teaching castmates Scottish songs and chants. Doyle, a classically trained composer, is not only a cast member, he's also the assistant music director. (His father, Patrick Doyle, composed the score.)
The production, in the Park Avenue Armory, stars Sir Kenneth Branagh, who also co-directs with choreographer Rob Ashford. As Fleance, son of Banquo, Doyle may have only two lines, but they're crucial to the story. The ensemble member, who was in the original U.K. production (performed in a deconsecrated church), looked forward to the unusual Armory venue. The play is staged in the Armory's 55,000-square-foot drill hall.
"When I first saw the Armory's space, the first feeling I had was it was like Olympic staging," Doyle said. "It's completely incredible what they're doing.
"Christopher Oram, the set and costume designer, said it was completely awesome, gob-stopping," he said. "It feels like 11th century Scotland as soon as you walk in."
Doyle has visited New York before. "The first was for a choir trip when I was in secondary school and also when I was in music school, age 19." This is his first time as a professional stage performer. Not to mention that he's now of drinking age.
"A big crowd of us will be on Broadway for the first time" -- technically Off Broadway -- "and four of us are Scots," he said.
Doyle portrays a soldier in the play's opening scenes, and he's relished learning the expertly choreographed fight scenes. "The battle is sequenced as it's described in the play's opening," he said, "but instead of it just being a note, we take the battle onstage."
Audience members are forewarned that the battle scenes will be dramatically convincing and in-your-face. Doyle's pivotal role, as a contender for the throne, is one of the younger characters. Some productions represent Fleance as being as young as 11. "The way I'm playing him is as coming-of-age. But he's learning his craft, about his father and the succession of the throne," he said.
"I bring out the naïveté and innocence in the character and I think that enhances the evil that Macbeth brings about.
"Another good thing that Ken is doing, when mentioned in the text, some characters come on stage quite subtly, so you can associate the character with the actor," he said.
"When you can make the play as clear as possible, it's easier for the audience to see and relate."
Doyle knows what it's like to feel flummoxed while watching a Shakespeare play. "If I haven't been exposed to a production before, it's hard to follow the plot," he said. Shakespeare is a challenge to read and understand without visual clues, he added. "This production is all about the clarity and how the lines are spoken. I don't want to give away too much, but in terms of placement and staging," there are many unexpected twists and turns, he said.
Rob Ashford, the co-director, "has a symmetrical mind and I enjoy that," Doyle said. "There's no sort of dead, stagnate space in the room. During rehearsal you can see Ken moving around the space and he uses it all, and the audience, too."
Doyle conducted his own vast research on the play and his role to best understand its intricacies. "There's not a lot of information about Fleance, which has to do with his being a fictional character," he said. "Macbeth speaks a lot about Fleance because of the witches' prophesy that he will become king."
The New York production is Doyle's second theatrical one and he has also recently composed a score for the play "Longing," based on two short stories by Chekhov, which was performed at the Hampstead Theatre in London.
"Working with Ken and Rob has been incredible, like witnessing a master class in directing techniques. Co-directing showcases their theatrical strengths quite powerfully."
Doyle has harnessed his own power of interpretation relating to his character. "We've all put a lot of thought in how to play each role, and we discuss what the characters are feeling," he said. "We keep up a good pace, the play is down to two hours, goes very fast, and at the core is as clear as possible."
Doyle has enjoyed teaching the cast Scottish chants and songs. "I take the vocal warm-up at every rehearsal," he said. "To be able to engage in this has been amazing. It's very rare, this kind of environment."
The fight scenes are especially invigorating and contain surprises for the audience, he said, reluctant to share secrets. "The fight scenes have been brilliant. It's a great way to get in shape," he laughed. "A lot of guys have done combat training." Terry King is the fight director and Jordan Dean is the fight captain.
"I think it's very fitting that I've been surrounded by Shakespeare from a really young age," Doyle said. "I've always embraced it and with this opportunity I'm very excited to do it. It's hard to describe. It's kind of overwhelming.
"In Shakespeare there are no minor roles."
He described the staging space as a departure from the traditional proscenium arch. "The audience will have a unique experience with the seating arrangement. It's kind of what it's like at a jousting event or Medieval Times entertainment," he said. Exits and entrances are found wherever the audience is seated.
"They've used the whole Armory in its entirety," he said. "I've not seen anything like it."
Doyle anticipates this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both the cast and crew as well as the audience.
"It's very daunting," he said, "but it moves so fast it feels as soon as you start, the play is over. You're so in the moment, it flies by. Luckily, I don't get too nervous. Being onstage here isn't as nerve-wracking as playing the piano in front of an audience." Doing that has cured him of stage-fright.
It's also given him a welcome break from sitting in front of a computer scoring a movie musical. "I was very conscious of being in the same seat in front of the same computer," he said. Fighting and being physically active during the play is a great departure, he added.
Since coming to New York, he's been making the most of the city's vast offerings. "I'm trying to see as many galleries and museums," among other things, he said. Now that he's of drinking age, he looks forward to also exploring the city's nightlife.
"After our first rehearsal, we went for a drink down the road and because it was Fleet Week, we met Sam and Mike who gave us a personal tour of the Intrepid, with all the unloaded guns. It was amazing," he said. "So far, that's been my highlight."
Macbeth runs through June 22 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue.