Writer Deborah McAndrew discusses her swashbuckling new show, Cyrano, which comes to OP in May...
Did you know Cyrano de Bergerac before working on your adaptation?
When things make a mark, they stay very vivid in my imagination and that's how it was with Cyrano, particularly the film with Gerard Depardieu. It's one of those stories that I felt like I knew. I knew him and I knew Roxane [Cyrano’s ladylove] and they are characters I can inhabit, spend time with and re-imagine
What are the practicalities of writing for Northern Broadsides?
There are always a couple of nuts-and-bolts things to pin down, like how many actors have I got. This is a key thing for me in doing this kind of adaptation because it affects the style of the show. Cyrano has 13 in the cast, meaning the main characters don't have to double-up roles. There are six main characters and an ensemble of seven.
What's it like being part of the Broadsides 'family', having written and acted with the company?
It's my home; a place where the style and approach is very comfortable for me. I began my work with the company in 1995 and Conrad Nelson [Cyrano’s director and McAndrew’s husband] and I met in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Within the Broadsides family I have developed my writing career and it has been a very important part of my career and life.
What sort of working relationship do you have with director Conrad Nelson, to whom you're married?
It helps having Con directing because I trust him. He reads the scripts I have written and he knows what I need. He knows where the ideas come from, especially with the original plays. He just gets it. Our approach is absolutely unrelenting in its rigour and we don't allow any imperfections.
The original Cyrano is entirely in rhyming couplets but you've changed the form?
It's pretty much still all in verse but I've jazzed it up so there are different kinds of verse form within it, as well as some prose. It's quite an instinctive thing trying to make the form fit the content. I wanted the form to serve the story rather than it be dictated by the structure of the verse, which makes you add syllables you don't need. I hate having to look for rhymes and put stuff that's really awkward into actors' mouths,
Sometimes you write roles with specific actors in mind - why?
You can make it fit beautifully like a tailored jacket. It's part of the pleasure for me. I love writing for actors I know and giving them a part that fits them. I know that when it goes out on stage it will work and the story will be told fluidly and seamlessly to the audience. I don't want to see the mechanics; I don't want to see acting.
Why re-examine the role of Roxane, the girl with whom Cyrano is in love?
I suppose I am coming at it from 21st century woman's sensibility, but I have not done anything that is not there in the original. She's still a woman of her time but I have seen a couple of recent productions where Roxane, not just on the page but on stage, was lamentable because she was portrayed as being an airhead. She's not a stupid girl and I want to make sure we get that.
Why is Cyrano relevant to today?
The themes of love, loyalty and disguise are timeless. But I also think this is about a bloke with, what we today, would call body dystrophic disorder. He does have a big nose but he's the only one who has a problem with it. Everyone else stops noticing it after a while. Cyrano is a man who can't get past his own nose. His fear of rejection and ridicule is absolutely crippling and that's something we can all identify with to some extent.
Do you ever consider writing roles for yourself?
I'm not interested in writing roles for myself or directing my own plays either. Theatre is a collaborative form and as a theatre-maker I have inhabited the extreme ends of the process - the beginning, as a writer, and the end, as an actor.
Are you happy with the roles you've had as an actor?
I have spent my whole acting career living with the frustration of being a short woman because roles for us are very few. As a young woman I went to see Hamlet and, just like the boys, wanted to be the lead. But those roles are not there when you are a short girl with a northern accent; the field is so narrow. In my imagination I want to be all those characters and when you are a writer, you can be.
Do you still get recognised for playing Angie Freeman in ITV's Coronation Street in the 1990s?
The punters still recognise me. But it's not a case of how does a girl in Corrie end up as a playwright? More how does a playwright end up in Corrie? I went to university not drama school. I wrote plays at school and at home. Corrie happened and sent my career in a different way.
The Chester Mystery Plays for 2018, an adaptation of Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for Bolton Octagon and I'm also working on a new play. As an actor, I'm doing four more episodes of the BBC Radio Four drama Stone with Hugo Speer, which I've been doing for ten years. I'm busy but you won’t hear a word of complaint from me…
Northern Broadsides was formed in 1992 by Artistic Director Barrie Rutter and is based at the historic Dean Clough Mill in Halifax, West Yorkshire. It has since become a multi-award winning touring company and one of the key National Portfolio Organisations in receipt of ACE funding. The company has built up a formidable reputation; with its repertoire combining Shakespeare, European and English Classic plays and new writing. Productions are noted for their distinctive northern voice, strong musicality and clear narrative journey. Northern Broadsides’ unique theatrical voice is inventive, invigorating, and accessible to all.