BWW Interview: Tom Edden Talks CYRANO DE BERGERAC at Playhouse Theatre
After joining Jamie Lloyd in his Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York's Theatre and featuring in his Pinter at the Pinter season, Tom Edden is jumping back on stage with the director to star alongside James McAvoy in Cyrano.
Edden's other work includes long-running shows like Les Misérables and Matilda, as well as plays of the likes of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar and Amadeus at the National Theatre.
We caught up with him to chat all things Cyrano, and what makes Lloyd such a special director.
You've been in some of the most beloved shows in the West End - is there any pressure in going into them?
I don't feel pressure, no. What I like about my career is that I've been able to keep it relatively varied. I like variety. So, if someone had seen me as Thénardier and then in Matilda, that's pretty much the same part. I think there's no fear in upsetting anyone if I say that. But I like to think that if somebody sees three things that I do in a row, they'll see three quite different productions and three quite different characters. So, hopefully, they won't be comparing what they've seen before.
Are there any roles of yours that you're particularly fond of?
I would have to say the part I played in One Man, Two Guvnors in 2011 and 2012. That's definitely been a favourite role for two reasons: what I was actually doing on stage every night as the main one, because it was so much fun, and because it was such an extreme character, I was able to enjoy the transformation.
As far as my career goes, that job just changed everything. Everything else we're talking about really sort of came out of that and what it exposed me to. Since then, I have to say I really enjoyed playing Fagin in Sheffield, then I was doing some Pinter with Jamie and that felt like a career highlight too. I really enjoyed being part of that.
You're joining Jamie Lloyd again - what do you think makes him so special as a director?
It's hard to say that it's one thing. From an actor's point of view - this will be my third show with Jamie now, and they've all been fairly different - it's not that there's necessarily anything in common with his productions.
But the thing that all of those experiences have in common, I'm not sure how he does it, but he creates a very strong sense of loyalty with what we're making. Everyone is invested, and everyone cares a great deal. However he achieves that, I'm not quite sure, but he does and that is why he's so special. I've been lucky enough to be asked back by him and I've never thought about it twice.
When I knew this production was coming up, I really had my eyes on it. I was like "Right, is there something I can do in this?". He really likes actors, really likes rehearsing, likes hearing everyone's ideas. He wants you to be the most creative version of yourself, and I think that's just a very nice environment to be around. And, yeah, it's a lot of fun.
His ideas for shows are always quite exciting, daring, and maybe provocative and so forth. People want to be part of that. You don't want to be in a boring production, and if there's one thing that you can guarantee with Jamie, it's that it will never be boring!
How did he present this show to you? What did he say to convince you to do it?
He didn't have to say anything to convince me; it was all very last minute, in fact. I found out about four days before we started, so there wasn't a lot of that. I don't know if you can print that! [Laughs] The answer is, since the moment I heard that he wanted to do it, I wanted to be in it. And when I knew the casting director was approaching me I was like "Yes, I'll do it. Whatever it is, please".
I was lucky to work with Jamie twice, and he wouldn't have asked me to do something or even auditioned me if it wasn't going to end up being an offer. It's very special to have that sort of relationship. It's very rare as well, for me anyway. As soon as he thought I could do it, I said yes. That was it, really. I've always loved the play, so that's a no brainer. James McAvoy, the West End, what else is there to decide?
So tell me about the show - is it faithful to the original?
It depends what you mean with that. I would say it is absolutely faithful because of its visual vocabulary. The way the production is going is very much motivated towards focusing very sharply on the language; by association, you'll know what's going on between these characters.
Now, it wouldn't surprise you that - as a Jamie Lloyd production - you shouldn't expect this production to be something you might have seen before, with traditional costumes and period so-and-so.
I think what really runs through all these decisions is this new version by Marin Crimp. He brilliantly translated it directly from French into this really electric piece of work. There are a lot of contemporary references but, equally, it's rooted in the 1640s, and I think it will bring a modern ear into the sensibility of the time. It's going to be very exciting, it will be surprising, and I think it will be a real deep immersion into the bones of the story - in and through its language.
I'm sort of hesitating from using phrases like stripped back or other clichés, but it will be very stripped back and it'll have a refined taste and a very, very specific colour.
What's the story about?
It's interesting - there's what I would have said the story is about before we started rehearsing, and then there's the approach of this production, which has enlightened me to two different levels in the story. But, basically, it's about two men - or three, depending on how important you think the characters are - who are obsessed with a woman called Roxanne, who's very beautiful. Cyrano and Christian are both in love with her.
Christian is incredibly good-looking, but doesn't have a way with words; Cyrano is, as far as he's concerned, disfigured with an enormous and infamous nose, and because of this feels he cannot be approached by women. However, he possesses a gift for poetry that Roxanne is really interested in. So together, Christian and Cyrano, using Christian's looks and Cyrano's mind, seduce her as a two-man team.
Obviously what this implication brings up is all sorts of questions and meditations on what love is, what desire is, what lust is, and how men relate to women and vice versa, or how we relate to each other in seduction, love, and intimacy.
The plot is incredibly fast-moving and incredibly lean - it's constantly changing. This complicated process on the surface, however, keeps throwing up these incredibly deep and incredibly human complexities around intimacy and sex and love. Who can't relate to that?
Who do you play?
I play, in short, the baddie. It's a character called De Guiche, he is perhaps the most high-status person in the world of the play. He's closely linked to the powerful cardinal Richelieu, and he represents the kind of thought police and military leader, all-powerful status figure who is also obsessed with Roxanne and interested in Cyrano and Christian.
He obviously uses his power to manipulate all those around him. He's a great antagonist for our hero, but he just wants to love and be loved as well, as all these villains do. He just doesn't go the right way about it.
What kind of research did you do to prepare?
Well, I had no time for any thorough preparation! Normally, I do like to do quite a lot of research. Yet, having worked with Jamie before, there's something to be found between the actors besides wanting to do a lot of research, which I think is natural and necessary. But equally, you have to balance this mind of the creative in the room. You need to have a very light response to the language that perhaps isn't held down with baggage or preconceptions.
Now, I've done a lot of preparation in terms of where I think this character is coming from, who he is, and what his background is, but I haven't done a great deal of research into the period - partly because we're not really setting it in that period, we're setting it in a sort of modern equivalent.
On the job, obviously, it's been a forensic process of going through every piece and every intention with a fine-tooth comb. It's rather like a piece of music, I'd say, about how we relate to each other.
Why should people see it?
I think they should come and see it because they'll have a really good night at the theatre. But, you know, it's a very easy sell in so far as Jamie is really devoted to creating pieces of theatre that will excite, and surprise, and maybe shock and stimulate - and he's particularly interested in doing that for everybody.
The theatre connoisseurs, we can extensively rely on their wanting to come to the theatre. But he wants to engage people who maybe didn't think that they would enjoy coming to the theatre before, or thought that theatre isn't a place that's open to them. And so, with a very young, exciting, talented cast and with this very funky version, he's really opening his arms to everybody, and to people for whom this might be their first trip to the theatre - or their 100th. He's really opening the doors to everyone.
I would also say that we've got something really exciting and dramatic; it will make you laugh, and scream, and think. The play - which is essentially the reason why we're all here doing what we're doing - ticks every box. It's why it's one of my favourite plays: it's one of the ultimate theatrical love letters in its language, in its romance, in its drama. In terms of a show to see, it's a no-brainer. It's a real fireworks display. I think everyone will enjoy it.
And it's Jamie Lloyd, so why wouldn't you see it?
And it's Jamie Lloyd! He's the man! Rock'n'roll!
Images courtesy of Marc Brenner