It’s open air theatre time in Chester once again. Laura Davis meets one of Grosvenor Park’s stars
STEVE MARTIN played him as an eloquent firefighter in love with a beautiful blonde, Joseph Cotten was a World War II incarnation and there has even been a porn version.
The life of 17th century French dramatist and duellist Cyrano de Bergerac has been told and retold in many different guises since even before Edmond Rostand’s famous play of 1897.
It is now the turn of poet and playwright Glyn Maxwell to relate the story of the large-nosed nobleman in a new adaptation for Chester’s Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre.
Maxwell has a long-standing relationship with the annual event – he wrote family show Merlin and the Woods of Time back in 2011 and last year’s Masters Are You Mad?, a sequel to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which played in rep alongside it.
This year, the programme has been expanded to include two of the Bard’s works – Othello and that ubiquitous choice of open air theatre directors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Due to popularity, the theatre has also been expanded so that the audience encircles the performance Globe-style.
One cast will act all three productions. Cyrano de Bergerac will be played by Edward Harrison, a graduate of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, who will also be the joiner Snug, one of Midsummer’s mechanicals, and an assortment of bit parts in Othello.
“It’s a really nice way of working because if it was just Cyrano I think I’d be feeling the pressure a bit more, but with this there’s such a feeling of ensemble. . . it’s been unique,” he says, in a break from rehearsals in London.
It’s the actor’s first experience of repertory theatre and he’s really enjoying it.
“Not that you experience it much anyway but there’s no hierarchy because you might be a lead in the morning and a smaller part in the afternoon,” he says.
“We’re all cogs in this big machine that will eventually open these three great shows. Every contribution’s important.”
Maxwell’s adaptation retains the original’s 17th century setting and is nicely balanced between down-to-earth scenes featuring de Bergerac and his regiment and romantic liaisons.
“It’s very colloquial and very funny and exciting and romantic and everything it needs to be,” says Peterborough-born Harrison.
“ The language is very accessible – there’s lots of beautiful poetry in it but the conversations characters have feel very modern and funky and sexy as well.
“There’s something very earthy about the production, which is very suitable for the environment we’re playing in, it’s all back to the elements.”
Despite his place in society and his renowned talent for duelling, de Bergerac is convinced his beautiful and intelligent distant cousin Roxanne will find herself unable to return his love due to his prominent nose.
Instead, he helps another of her suitors, the handsome Christian, to woo her by writing her seductive letters of great wit.
“Cyrano, who’s this amazing man – a poet, philosopher and a swordsman, happens to have this large nose and it stops him being the man he wants to be,” says Harrison.
“In many ways, he’s his own worst enemy. He’s got this outer shell of bravado and showmanship but what lurks inside is a deeply insecure man.
“The role is famously a gift for an actor. I feel very lucky to be playing it because it allows you to be a showman but then to show that vulnerable, sensitive side.
“Then of course there’s sword-fighting, music and all that thrown on top of it. It’s a really exciting mix.”
He’s an easy character to identify with because everyone has something they would like to change about themselves, adds Harrison.
His is his uncontrollable hair – a family trait.
“It’s huge,” he says. “My dad was a barber so he used to cut our hair twice a week and I’m convinced that’s why we’ve all got this huge bushy hair. That’s the beast I’d have to tame.”
As well as the thrill of playing such a multi-layered character, Harrison is excited to be able to revisit Liverpool.
“It seems an age away now, 10 years since I left, but I had a great time in Lipa itself and outside – Liverpool is such a great place to be a student of drama because it has so much to offer with the Playhouse and Everyman and Unity,” he says.
“I’ve been back quite a few times since because I’ve still got friends up there. I’m really excited to be exploring Chester but also being so close to Liverpool so I can pop back there to see people and get to know the city again.”
Cyrano de Bergerac, Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are being performed in rep at Chester’s Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre from July 5 and August 25.