Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 4: Matthew Lindsay Payne

In Part Four of a series of interviews with cast members of Cohesion Theatre Company’s Neverwhere, meet Matthew Lindsay Payne.

Patricia: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on local stages and some roles you have played.

Matthew Payne.
Matthew Payne.

Matthew: I’m Matthew Lindsay Payne, something of a regular here at Cohesion, where I currently play Mr. Croup and Tooley in Neverwhere. At Cohesion, I’ve played Marcel in Thirteen Dead Husbands, Marcellus, First Player, and Fortinbras in Hamlet, and Sir Toby in Twelfth Night. In the last year, I’ve also played Franz Kafka in The Trap at Ambassador Theater Co., and V. in The Mesmeric Revelations of Edgar Allan Poe, an immersive theater show with Submersive Productions.

Why did you want to become a member of the cast of Neverwhere?

I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, particularly American Gods and Neverwhere, and have wanted to be a part of this show since it was announced. I had never considered that either could be adapted into a play, but of course Cohesion would be the company to try to stage it. I had also heard that a few of the Mesmeric Revelations people were involved, and I’m eager to work with anyone from that production again.

Had you read Neverwhere prior to being cast in this play? Had you seen the BBC series?

I first read Neverwhere about four years ago, and I’ve read it another three times since I was cast. I was introduced to Neil Gaiman by my college roommates, and am forever in their debt. I’ve only seen clips of the BBC series, and a few panels of the comics, which seem quite different from the book. I did a lot of research online to find other versions of Mr. Croup that people have created though.

Briefly describe your character for those who may be unfamiliar with the story (no spoilers!).

Mr. Croup is a talkative, refined, and very put-upon assassin, who, together with the more brutish Mr. Vandemar, pursues the Lady Door throughout London Below. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are strongly implied to not be human, and possibly immortal, with Mr. Croup described as foxy, and Mr. Vandemar as wolfish. In a scene from the book that didn’t make it into the play, they are also revealed to be cannibals. More than anything else though, Mr. Croup is a professional, who takes great pride in his work, even if he enjoys to hear himself speak a little too much.

Underneath all the murderous mayhem, does Mr. Croup have any of your personality or character traits?

Absolutely, I also like hearing myself talk! Mr. Croup certainly acts like the entire world is out to get him, which I think any actor can relate to. I often get cast to play either a villain or a fool, and Mr. Croup is a wonderful combination of them both. More than that, he’s self-conscious of it, and he takes a lot of joy in playing those two roles. I also really, really love working with Bobby Henneberg, who plays Mr. Vandemar, whom Mr. Croup has a deep, if unspoken, affection for.

Mr. Croup has a very particular way of speaking. You make his tongue-twisting verbiage sound so natural. Did it make this character more challenging than most?

The voice I do for Croup is a bit of a vocal strain, but that’s just how the character sounds to me. In film or a voiceover it wouldn’t be as bad, but the repetition of doing the show for 14 days straight is rough. Oh well, that’s the nature of theater. I want to make Mr. Croup as accurate as possible to how I see him in the book, and if that involves a little extra on my part, so be it. I initially figured his speech patterns out during the callback for the show, and it kind of just exploded out. Our director Brad’s face was hilarious to watch afterwards, he almost looked resigned to casting me.

You also played a different character named Tooley in Neverwhere. Was it difficult to move between the two very dissimilar roles throughout the play?

Tooley was a little more difficult to put together for me. In the book, he’s really helped by Gaiman’s narration, and the relative lull in the action when he shows up, which doesn’t translate well on stage. I tried a couple of iterations of him, but a lot of them existed too closely to Mr. Croup. In the book, he’s this decrepit jester, but playing him as ancient didn’t read particularly well. I draw a lot of my character work from cartoons, because they get to be idealized versions of what the writers are trying to communicate, not limited by reality. Tooley eventually took on a bit of the sleazy sundial salesman from Disney’s Hercules, and it went from there. Once I had the idea, switching between the two wasn’t that hard.

Were there any similarly-inspirational characters that informed your Mr. Croup?

In creating Mr. Croup, I also pulled a lot from the characters of Goss and Subby in China Mieville’s Kraken, which is kind of a more mature Neverwhere. I think of Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar as two halves of the same character, and a lot of that came from their similarities to Goss and Subby, who are Kraken’s version of Those Two Bad Guys.

What were some of the challenges you faced while learning the Croup role and how did you work through them?

Verbiage. Croup loves to hear himself talk, and the more grandiloquent his phrasing, the better. Just getting all of the words out correctly while maintaining his vocal posturing was a challenge, but one surmounted with time. Luckily, the Croup and Vandemar scenes have been condensed a bit from the book which helped, although Kauzlaric really needs to be commended for how he kept their spirit.

What have you enjoyed most about this experience since beginning rehearsals?

There are so many things. This whole group is so laid-back. Everyone cares deeply about their performances in this show, more than in most others I’ve been a part of. The transitions were a challenge, but we got through them. Almost everyone came in on their own time to help build the show. Brad really gives his actors free reign to to do what they want, which is such a gift. I’ve been in hellish productions before, and this has not been one of them. This is kind of par for the course for Cohesion though.

What has impressed you most about your fellow cast members and/or crew?

Matthew Payne as Mr. Croup. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.
Matthew Payne as Mr. Croup. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

This is an incredibly talented cast. In a lot of ways, this group is kind of the all-star team to put this monster on stage. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, in this group could be leading a great show of their own, and to have them all in one group has been a pleasure. I’ve had the good fortune to work with most of them in the past, and I really hope to again in the future. Mel and Jonas are as excellent as ever. I’d not gotten the chance before to work with Cori or Joseph, who play Door and Richard, and I’ve been really inspired by their work.

Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are inseparable in the show and have a really great connection. Are you and Bobby Henneberg longtime friends in real life? Did you know each other before Cohesion?

Bobby and I met during Thirteen Dead Husbands last year, and we’ve been pretty tight since then. He’s such a dedicated and talented actor, and I think something that doesn’t often get mentioned is how excellent his stage combat skills are. There is no show I wouldn’t do with him, or Casey Dutt, or Dominic Gladden. All three of them are young up and coming rockstars of the Baltimore theater scene, and will have a huge impact.

Why do you think audiences should come see the show?

If you love Neverwhere, you will love this show. Period. This is a very faithful adaptation, carried out with great skill and all the spectacle the book deserves. We were really nervous at first what reaction the show would get from both diehard fans and people who’d never heard of it, and the response from both has been outstanding. The set design is inspired, with two towers forming everything from the Night’s Bridge to a battleship to an angelic citadel to subway cars. This show is just so much fun, and it really has a bit of everything: drama, humor, unforgettable characters, monsters, a really human story, and even some serious horror. If you’re from D.C., or even farther away, it’s absolutely worth the journey.

I understand you’ve recently completed a fantastic training program. Please briefly discuss how that came to pass and how you think it has benefitted you as an actor.

I had the good fortune to be asked to attend the Moscow Art Theater School’s Summer Stanislavsky training program in 2015. It’s been hosted as a joint effort between the MXAT and the American Repertory Theater in Boston, where teachers from the MXAT come to train actors from America and other countries since 1992. I had auditioned for A.R.T.’s grad school program, and while I didn’t get in, I was asked to attend the Summer Stanislavsky 2015 iteration. I had the opportunity to train under some of Russia’s finest, including Mikhail Lobanov, Vera Kharbyna, and Natasha Fedorova, now of Rose Bruford College of London. The program introduced me to various acting techniques and Droznin movement training, which has greatly aided my abilities, particularly in character work. My only regret is that 5 weeks was not long enough to fully absorb everything I wanted to. I would highly recommend the program to anyone who asked.

I also hear that congratulations are in order, that you are now a member of Actors Equity and will be performing your first Equity show soon. What’s the role and where can we see you?

Thank you. I will be performing in Dracula as Jonathan Harker at East Lynne Theater Company in Cape May this summer. This is only my first Equity show however, and I will be EMC, not a full member. I am quite eager to get started, since Dracula is another of my favorite books! Harker’s a bit of a departure for me, as I don’t usually play the typical leading man type, Franz in The Trap being quite different. I’ll be doing a lot of text mining, similar to Neverwhere, in preparation for the role. I currently have no plans for after, but am hoping to do another Equity show.

BIO: Matthew Lindsay Payne (Mr. Croup, Tooley) recently concluded training with the Moscow Art Theatre’s Summer Stanislavsky School. He’s pleased to announce he’ll playing in his first Equity role this summer as Jonathan Harker in Dracula at East Lynne Theater Co. Other credits: Vanya in Uncle Vanya (MXAT Summer Stanislavsky School), V. in The Mesmeric Revelations of Edgar Allan Poe (Submersive Productions), Franz Kafka in The Trap (Ambassador Theatre Company), First Player/Marcellus/Fortinbras in Hamlet (Cohesion Theater Company), Marcel in Thirteen Dead Husbands (Cohesion Theatre Company).

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Neverwhere plays through June 19, 2016 at Cohesion Theatre, performing at United Evangelical Church – 3200 Dillon Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, buy them at the box office or online.

LINKS:
Review of Neverwhere on DCMetroTheaterArts by Patricia Mitchell.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 1: Joseph Coracle.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 2: Cori Dioquino.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 3: Jonas David Grey.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 4 – Matthew Lindsay Payne.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 5: Bobby Henneberg.