Ted Sod, Education Dramaturg, spoke to director Jamie Lloyd about his thoughts on Cyrano de Bergerac.
Ted Sod: Could you tell us where you were born and how you decided to become a theatre director?
Jamie Lloyd: I was born in Poole in Dorset, which is on the south coast of England. We moved further along the coast when my mother remarried, to Hastings. But we always lived in quaint towns by the sea. My father is a truck driver. My mum was once a cleaner. We were a very working class family. I’ve got two brothers and two sisters, and they have vastly different occupations. I’ve been trying to figure out how I got into all of this theatre madness.
TS: Are you in the middle?
JL: I’m the youngest. Even though I didn’t grow up in a theatre family per se, there was a kind of bizarre theatricality. My mum went on to run a fancy dress shop. I used to dress up with my cousins as Michael Jackson and perform shows. We used to stage “Thriller” and make graveyards out of polystyrene blocks. My dad was a talented drummer in a local band and ended up managing a Cliff Richard and The Shadows tribute band. You probably don’t know who Cliff Richard is here in the States, but in London, you would be saying, “That’s hilarious!” There were entertainers in my family. My granddad used to play the spoons and did it incredibly well and intricately. We had all sorts of characters stay with us. One of our lodgers was a snake charmer. I used to play with the snakes in the paddling pool at the back. When my mum remarried, my stepfather did children’s entertainment. He used to dress up as a clown called Uncle Funny who was the most unfunny clown. He was also a kiss-a-gram, which is like a stripper. But instead of being Mr. Universe- a big muscle man- he was “Mr. Puny-verse.” He was this unpleasant tiny, skinny man in his fifties and he would take his clothes off! He used to keep the dwarf rabbits that he used in magic tricks in the living room, and they would poo all over the floor. My mother married yet again (unsurprisingly), and my new stepfather was a guitarist in local bands. It was the most extraordinary childhood you could have conceived!
TS: It sounds like a terrific plot for a movie. When did you get bitten by the bug?
JL: I ended up being in local shows, Pantomimes and things like that. They would always take kids from the local dance and drama school, and I was doing that. I got into a school on a drama scholarship. It was then that I started to act a lot and started going to the theatre on school trips. My parents were very supportive.
TS: Were you very familiar with the play Cyrano de Bergerac when you agreed to direct it?
JL: I’d never read it before and I’ve never seen it. Of course, I knew the story. Everybody forgets that it’s a classic French play because it has become so much a part of everyone’s culture. Some people about the Steve Martin movie, Roxanne, others about the swashbuckling hero played by Jose Ferrer. The play has often been dismissed as a two-dimensional action-rom-com. The work that I have been doing with Soutra Gilmour, who is designing sets and costumes, is as detailed as possible. These are based on real people. Cyrano actually walked the streets of 17th Century Paris. If you consider that, you can’t dress him with a kind of flamboyant, phony theatricality. He’s got to wear real clothes. You’ve got to give him a costume that is worn in. You have to populate the society around him with real people, with thorough back stories. There’s a real texture and grime to their lives. There is a sweaty underbelly to the world that we’re creating.
TS: Evidently the real Cyrano also had a big nose.
JL: Yes, apparently. Although he was probably less appalled and embarrassed by it than Rostand makes the character in the play, if at all. If you’re going to do a play based on a real person, even if that play veers away from the truth and fact, your impulse is not to make him an unknowable icon. Make him a flawed human being like the rest of us. Make him a man with a deformity who is struggling to come to terms with something as prominent as that nose. Plus, what is interesting to me is seeing Cyrano- the play- as a piece for our times. All over the world at the moment is a sense of the underdog finding a voice. It reminds me of the people on the streets with the Occupy movement and in the Middle East with the Arab Spring, or the women of Pussy Riot in Russia. There’s a sense of finding your voice and not bowing down to a morally corrupt elitism or any kind of dictatorship. What’s interesting about Cyrano’s society is there’s an extreme power at the top, led by the Catholic Church and Cardinal Richelieu. He was this incredibly powerful figure because he took the power of the Church and combined it, as a political figure, with the power of the state. This extraordinary power resided in one man. The corruption that goes with that kind of power, and the fear that it instills in the people below you, is incredible. So for someone like Cyrano, who is a free thinker, to say, “I will not bow down. I will not bend backwards to appease these people. I will not rely on having a patron to fund my art, to change my words to suit them. No, thank you!” is incredibly brave. It really meant something to say something political in that era. It was dangerous. It reminds me of what’s going on in many countries in the world at the moment, and it gives the production a purpose.