“I think it is a story that I’ve always known, I can’t really remember not knowing it and it surprised me how people don’t know it,” Deborah McAndrew told me. Working with the theatre company Northern Broadside since their birth, in partnership with the New Vic, Deborah is bringing her adaptation of Cyrano to the Lowry’s stage.
It’s a story of love, passion and honour, and one that many are aware of due to it’s familiar storyline and impressively written script. Written in rhyme, it’s a story that is cleverly told through ballad form, which is something Deborah is sticking strictly to in her production.
Playwright and actor, Deborah is well known for walking the cobbles of Coronation Street back in the 1990s. Working with her husband Conrad Nelson who will be directing the piece, she was first drawn to the play because of the character of Cyrano. “He is just an attractive, complex and theatrical figure,” she said. “There is a lot to have a go at there, and a lot within the story. The play touches on themes that really appeal to me. It is about loyalty and self-sacrifice, but it is also about insecurity and love.”
Originally written by Edmond Rostand and frequently adapted by men, Deborah feels she can bring something really different to the piece because of her female influence. “There aren’t many versions by women that are staged,” she said. “I just want to have a bit more fun with that as it is hard for men to know what to do when it comes to writing about women sometimes, and I think it is fair to say that. A lot of men have looked at the character of Roxanne and caricatured her as just a pretty face, and I think she is a bit more than that.
It still is what it is, she still is a beautiful woman and the actor playing her is very beautiful. But I have tried wherever possible that where it may just refer to how beautiful she is, I have then reminded the audience that she is Cyrano’s choice and he is a very intelligent man and a very intelligent man wouldn’t just fancy her because she is beautiful, she would have to be of an equal intellect. So I’ve just turned the volume up on that, I’ve also made her a bit less gullible. People always say at the end ‘why didn’t she realise?’ but we all don’t see things that are right in front of us, that is just being human.”
Although Deborah is sticking closely to the script, she is adding in dialogue and direction in order to enhance the characters. Working with Northern Broadside for many years has allowed her to really get into the DNA of the company. She explained: “Conrad is directing it, so I know there will be a strong musical element.” In regards to the process, it was a challenge for Deborah but she relished that challenge.
“I was given a brief for 12 actors so I looked at the play which is for about 40 actors and started to clean that up. One of the most noticeable innovations of my particular script, although there is a lot of music in it, I have developed the character of Lignière the drunken poet whereas in the original he only appears in the first act. I have turned him into more of a ‘choric’ figure and because he sings songs and writes songs about things. Balladry and poetry are part of the story so I’ve run with that a little bit and he provides a choric voice and solves some of my staffing issues further down into the play when I haven’t got enough actors.
All the time my question of the text is ‘What does the text need to do here in terms of character and story and to make the form of the language?’ Whether it is verse, internal rhymes or rhyming couplets, it is about what serves the story best and what helps the actors do their job.”
Very familiar with the company, Deborah gets to experience writing and adapting specific characters to particular actors. She said: “If you ask any dramatists if they like writing for specific actors, they’ll all tell you the same thing. It is great to just imagine a character out of your head and just have them in your mind, but then if you do have a certain actor you know is playing the role then you can really hold them in your imagination while you’re writing. For me, because I am an actor and I feel actors out from the inside a little bit, it is quite an intimate thing as well.”
It’s an old play that is set in an older time that is being brought to life through Deborah’s imaginative adaptation. Although it has the core of the original, Deborah pointed out that it is still incredibly relevant today. “A story of unrequited love is always something that all of us can identify with, you’re not human if you haven’t been in love and it not being returned,” she said. “And then of course there is something about Cyrano, he has a thing about his nose and I think we have all got something, whether it is our physical appearance or the way that we feel about ourselves. Probably in the modern world where physical appearance, image and girls posting pouty photos on Instagram just creates that sort of nonsense that is worse than ever. Our self-image and what we look like seems to be even more important.
We have a central character that has everything going for him but still can’t see beyond the rest of his nose.”
On at the Lowry from the 18th of April, tickets can be found here.