Opening Night Of Macbeth Packs The House, Raises Funds For Park Avenue Armory

Forbes, 9 June 2014
By Bettina Zilkha
Thanks Renie

Over a thousand people packed the Park Avenue Armory on June 5th for the opening night of 'Macbeth'. The original production played to rave reviews in Manchester, England; the Armory’s vast space provided a unique opportunity to bring this innovative version of Shakespeare’s classic to New York.

“I went to Manchester to see the play because I had heard such wonderful things about Ken Branagh and Rob Ashford’s interpretation and staging in a derelict church,” said producer Colin Callender. “I was completely blown away by the production – I had never experienced such a bold and imaginative melding of both immersive and classical narrative theatre. And Ken was of course simply brilliant in the title role. I went backstage to congratulate him – we had worked together several times before – and said we had to find a way to bring the play to a New York audience. I told Ken that if we did there would be a future generation of actors, directors and playwrights who would say that they had decided on their craft because they had seen his version of Macbeth.”

“When The Park Avenue Armory committed to stage the play Ken called me and asked if I would help produce the New York production. I said yes immediately,” Callender continued. “Working with Ken, co-director Rob Ashford and production designer Chris Oram to reconceive the play for an audience of 300 in a Manchester church to a production for over a 1,000 in the vast expanse of The Armory in the heart of New York has been an extraordinary and once in a lifetime experience.”

'Macbeth' at the Armory features the original cast, including Branagh, making his New York stage debut in a tour de force performance, braving, rain, mud, and physically demanding battle scenes, and Alex Kingston as a brilliant, manipulative and seductive Lady Macbeth.

The set begins as an enormous expanse of dirt flanked by Neolithic pillars on one side and a stark, candlelit alter on the other. The audience is so close to the action that people in the front row are often face to face with the performers – and the weather.

“I was really glad that we didn’t get wet when it rained,” said author Jay McInerney. ” It was an incredibly innovative use of space and staging. Branagh really was extraordinary. It was definitely the best 'Macbeth' I’ve ever seen.”

“The biggest challenge of doing the production at The Armory was the size and scope of the space itself,” said co-director Ashford. “ We wanted to include the entire drill hall in the design but we didn’t want to dissipate the energy of the performance space proper. We enhanced our world with a group of standing stones and a ‘blasted Heath’ that surrounds the playing space. This proved useful in many ways: introducing the audience to our primitive Scotland, creating a place for witchcraft, and providing a field for the approaching Birnham Wood.”

Following the performance, a gala dinner was held upstairs in the historical rooms. Over 200 people sipped Dom Perignon Vintage 2004 and collectively processed the unique experience they had just witnessed. Members of the cast were in attendance, along with Kate Beckinsale, Matt Bomer, Anna Wintour, Callender and his wife Elizabeth, Ashford, Dan Loeb, Lyor Cohen, Kelly and Jay Sugarman, Renee Rockefeller, and Princess Alexandra of Greece. Branagh gave a toast thanking the evening’s supporters for their generosity; tickets were $2,500 each.

Alex Kingston, looking remarkably calm after such an emotionally wrenching performance, discussed the “Scottish curse” associated with 'Macbeth'.

“I think all actors are superstitious about saying the name of the play. You only shouldn’t say it in a theater. Outside, or anywhere else, you can absolutely say ‘the name’. Because the Armory is our theatrical home right now, I’m not going to say it,” said Kingston with a laugh. “I’ll say Murder At Glamis Vicarage instead.”

Kingston was thrilled about performing at the Armory.

“It’s so exciting,” Kingston continued. “I cannot imagine any other venue for this particular production.”

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