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The knight had cased the castle for years and now finally laid siege to it — instead of to Broadway — for a three-week reign in Macbeth, his official New York stage debut.
"I used to stay with friends on the Upper East Side," recalled Sir Kenneth Branagh in a recent phone interview, "and I walked by the Park Avenue Armory regularly, always thinking, 'Gosh, it looks like a castle from the outside, like a stronghold.'
"So, when it was suggested to me, I knew it would be perfect for the idea we always wanted to do — to give people an environmental experience from the word go."
For two summer weeks last year at the Manchester International Festival, he and his co-director, the Tony-winning American choreographer Rob Ashford, worked their theatrical black-magic on a deconsecrated Victorian church, the St. Peter's, in the Murray's Mill Historic District, making it battle-ready for blood-and-mud Scottish mayhem.
That feeling, said Sir Ken, "in New York starts as soon as you approach the outside of the Armory, frankly. You're already seeing something that takes up a whole city block that is martial and very massive, and it will be containing a play that will be at least those things, as well as being a thriller and a supernatural ghost story and something that deals with primal human motivations in a big, sort of loaded space.
"You are aware, especially in the way they have refurbished the Armory, of its history with New York regiments. People have gone to wars from that building and from those rooms, and they have returned from wars. It carries that sense of a martial history that is very human and very thick and well over a century old. Thus, the atmosphere that the play is unleashed in is particular potent at the Armory."
"Unleashed" is an apt word for the fury-filled tsunami that Ashford and Branagh aggressively let go here. Granted, Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, but this version clocks in — sans intermission — at a dizzying two hours and three minutes.
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