Patrick Myles: I was always the first on my feet shouting at Snow White!
The Ulster-born actor tells Matthew McCreary why his first starring role at the GrandOpera House will be a childhood dream come true
It's a long way from the stalls to the stage for any aspiring actor, but when it's at the very same theatre where you once roared 'Oh no he isn't!' as a young child during the Christmas panto, surely there's an extra frisson of delight.
That will certainly be the case for Ulster-born actor Patrick Myles (33) when he takes to the stage at the Grand Opera House next week for a leading role in Shakespeare's Henry VI. The three-part epic is being brought to the historic venue by the Globe Theatre Company – and Patrick is looking forward to reconnecting with some very special childhood memories.
"I watched a lot of panto at the opera house when I was younger and adored them," he says. "I was always first on my feet shouting at Snow White not to eat the apple. Hopefully this time I won't be as embarrassing on stage, though!"
Born in Moira, Patrick took his first tentative steps into drama while a schoolboy at Wallace High in Lisburn, before his family moved to Cyprus when he was 12. Despite having trained in Bristol and now being based in London, he still retains strong family links to his home province.
"When the tour schedule came through I was delighted to be able to play Belfast because it's such a beautiful theatre," he says.
"I still have my grandfather here, as well as aunties and uncles in Hillsborough and Ballinderry so I will have a bit of a fan club on a couple of the nights, I think!"
Whether they in turn will be tempted to shout 'He's behind you!' might add an extra edge to Patrick's debut appearance at the venue.
"There is a bit where I walk up behind Henry holding a sword," laughs Patrick. "So they might well do!"
While he is nervously anticipating his appearance at the Opera House, the prospects of Patrick fluffing his lines in his role as King Edward IV are perhaps less daunting than they might be for one of Shakespeare's better-known plays.
"It's a double-edged sword in that people arrive not really knowing what they are getting," he explains of the play. "But it's not Hamlet, where if you mess up the lines everyone will know. And you get to introduce the audience to these characters and speeches – there are some beautiful passages of text, even though it was an early Shakespeare play and he wasn't yet quite the master of the language that he later became. Henry has a speech where he's sitting on a molehill during the Battle of Towton and talking about his life and it's heartbreaking.
"Richard of Gloucester – later Richard III – has the longest soliloquy in the entire canon of Shakespeare in one scene."
Viewers of recent BBC drama The White Queen will already be familiar to the backdrop of the play, the turbulent events of the Wars of the Roses, in which the English throne was seized from Henry VI in a brutal fashion that was typical of its 15th century setting.
"Henry VI ascended to the throne at the age of nine months; he was Henry V's son and had a lot to live up to, but unfortunately he wasn't the man his father was," explains Patrick. "Through his nobles jostling and bickering for power, he ended up losing the throne to another side of his family and they split into the Houses of York and Lancaster.
"My character was the complete opposite of Henry, who was a quiet, pious man who just wanted everyone to get along, whereas Edward and the Yorkists were these war-hungry brutes who were just playground bullies."
While Shakespeare himself was not averse to taking some dramatic licence with his history plays, for Patrick and the rest of the cast research, including performing the play at the actual battlefied sites from the era, was an important part of understanding their characters.
"The director, Nick Bagnall, made sure we knew all the history behind it," he says. "To be able to go to the sites where the battles happened and do these plays was very special."
The Henry VI Trilogy runs at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, from Wednesday until Saturday, August 28-31. For booking details, visit www.goh.co.uk