In Part Five of a series of interviews with cast members of Cohesion Theatre Company’s Neverwhere, meet Bobby Henneberg.
Patricia: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on local stages and some roles you have played.
Bobby: Hi! My name is Bobby Henneberg. This past season people may have seen me in Force Continuum at Cohesion, or Much Ado About Nothing over at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. I’ve also been working behind the scenes, Assistant Directing Cohesion’s production of Hamlet.
Why did you want to become a member of the cast of Neverwhere?
Last season, I worked with Brad on 13 Dead Husbands, which was a fantastic experience. After seeing how he can gather an A+ team and execute something kinda against all odds, I knew I had to be a part of this. Husbands was also where I first got to know several of my current cast mates, including my partner in crime Matt Payne. Getting to work with him again was definitely part of it as well.
Had you read Neverwhere prior to being cast in this play? Had you seen the BBC series?
No, actually. I had only heard of Neil Gaiman mostly through his writing for Doctor Who. Then I started talking to some friends about it and I got to realize that this book actually has a huge cult following, which started to worry me a bit. Nerds, of which I am one, are often very particular and protective of the piece of culture that they prescribe to, which can be very worrisome when trying to do it in a theatrical setting where choices and compromises are constantly being made.
Briefly describe your character for those who may be unfamiliar with the story (no spoilers!).
Mr. Vandemar is a simple man (if you can call him that). He likes blood and violence and eating rats and such. Sometimes he appears slow, and a little too literal, but he very rarely misses the point of something.
Underneath all the mayhem and bloodlust, does Vandemar have any of your personality or character traits?
I know this sounds odd talking about an assassin, but Vandemar is fiercely loyal to Croup, his only friend in the world. That’s something we share. I also, way deep down in my inner monologue, have this thought that he has a soft spot for children. Not that he wouldn’t still kill them, but I think he would do it in a nicer way. That might’ve just come from the whole Gentle Giant archetype.
How did you prepare to play a character of mythic level evil?
At first I considered thinking about the tens of thousands of years that Croup and Vandemar has been around for, and how that would affect someone’s brain. Then I decided that for someone to be so evil, and do so many horrible things, there couldn’t be any sort of conscience in his mind. Which got me on this whole rabbit hole of “well, what is in his mind?” Eventually I decided on “not much.” Not to say he’s stupid, but that over the millennia, his mind has become a sort of empty zen and his body merely a tool, an instrument of death.
You also played a memorable character named Varney. Was it difficult to move between the two roles throughout the play?
Not really. With Vandemar, there’s a lot of tightness in the voice and in the shoulders. Varney is my opportunity every night to sort of let it all hang out, unwind everything and have fun interacting with the audience in a way that Vandemar never really gets to do.
What were some of the challenges you faced while learning the Vandemar role and how did you work through them?
Finding that rigidity, and that slow calmness. Usually on stage I talk very fast and my physicality is everywhere, a lot like what you get to see with Varney. But Vandemar was all about dialing it back with out being flat or boring on stage, which I hope I’ve achieved.
You do a bit of violence in this show and it looked very natural and believable. Did you have previous stage combat training? Did you spend much time with the fight choreographer for Neverwhere?
I’m lucky enough to currently be attending school at Howard Community College, where Jenny Male is the Coordinator of the Theatre Program. She’s been such an inspiration to me as a stage fighter and choreographer, giving me every opportunity to learn and grow in that regard. Haha, yes, Jon Rubin and I did spend a lot of time together learning and practicing the fights; we’ve talked a lot in that time about choreographing and fighting in the Baltimore/DC area.
What have you enjoyed most about this experience since beginning rehearsals?
This has been just a fantastic, supportive group of people to play with. What I love most about it is going into a scene, and doing something without the intention of it sticking around, just with the purpose of trying to make your cast mates laugh, then discovering something out of that really works and keeping it. You don’t always get that opportunity, especially with a cast this size.
What has impressed you most about your fellow cast members and/or crew?
I mean, what is there not to be impressed with? A show this size is daunting, nearing impossible, especially for a theatre this new. But never once did a member of the cast or crew waver in their determination for a second.
If I had to pick one thing I’m impressed with though, it would have to be Wesley (who plays Lamia) doing scene transitions in high heels. Those boxes are damn heavy, and it amazes me every time.
Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are inseparable in the show and have a really great connection. Are you and Matt Payne longtime friends in real life? Did you know each other before Cohesion?
Matt and I first became close when we played best friends in 13 Dead Husbands. Before that, we met when we, and our mutual friend Chris, were trying to move a couch out of the space where Cohesion performed their first show Coriolanus. Since then we have developed a great chemistry both on and off stage. Which is easy when you’re working with an actor who is as professional, giving and smart as Matt. I’m a big fan of Matt, can you tell?
Why do you think audiences should come see the show?
Because you will get to witness something impossible happen on stage every night. Honestly, the fact that this production even happened is magic.
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming roles, jobs, or life events you’d like to mention?
Well, I’m Fight Directing for a student film this summer. It’s a horror movie called The Stalker, written by Daniel Johnston and directed by Alex Becker, two names you should definitely watch out for in the future. I’m also Assistant/Fight Directing for Macbeth at the Cradle Theatre Company, which goes up in August.
BIO: Bobby Henneberg (Mr. Vandemar, Varney) has appeared in 13 Dead Husbands as Jean-Pierre and Coriolanus in the Ensemble. He also assistant directed Hamlet. He has appeared in numerous shows with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. Bobby is currently pursuing an AA at Howard Community College.
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.