February 23 2016
An adaptation of an old play reveals new insights and challenges a rising star of stage and screen…
By Tasha Mathur
IT IS REGARDED as one of the classics of French Literature – but a new production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” will turn the play completely on its head.
The cast, at the Southwark Playhouse in London, is an all-female one…
All the more remarkable when you think that the essence of the drama is about an ugly man surreptitiously wooing a beautiful woman through a handsome intermediary*.
The women cast, who play a number of roles, will perform as men in the place of the traditional male characters.
Scottish Kiran Sonia Sawar, who has previously starred in “Aladdin The Musical” at Oxford Playhouse, had a stint in “Holby City” and featured in US TV series, “Legend“, is one of the eight-strong cast in this production of Cyrano. Sarwar will appear alongside Olivier-award winner Kathryn Hunter, who has played traditional male parts before and featured in “Harry Potter“.
After leaving school at 17 and graduating in Marine Biology from St Andrews, Sawar picked up the drama bug at university and went on to acquire a Masters from Oxford.
She told www.asianculturevulture.com what drew her to this ambitious and radical take on “Cyrano de Bergerac“.
“It was the fact that it’s a French classical play and none of my characters are there because of my ethnicity or my nationality – it’s quite colour blind.”
For a change her ethnicity was not central to her casting. It’s the first time she’s played a notionally white or ethnically non-descriptive role.
“That’s really what excited me the most because I’ve never actually got the chance to do that in my career so far,” she admitted.
“It is my obvious niche is to be playing Asian roles and I think there are Asian stories that need to be told. So for the right project, I’m more than willing to play to my casting.
“But it’s always lovely to be given the opportunity to be doing something completely different and learn from that in a different way.”
In addition, there were another series of firsts for her as an actor.
Like the majority of the cast, Sawar plays many roles within the play and although she has done this previously in a production of the Caucasian Chalk Circle (where she played two roles) this was still a learning curve as she tackles approximately seven characters in this production.
“It’s just been about watching and learning techniques from the other girls, putting that into practice and making really clear choices.
“It was a case of physically finding different kinds of attitudes, different voices and different accents for each of the characters to try and really establish which character was which and making that clear for the audience,” explained Sawar.
Three of the characters she has to play are men and that too challenged her, especially in a production where there are only women.
“I have loved working with all women. It’s been a dream to work with a bunch of very talented women who have been in the industry a long time. It’s been a great learning experience for me.
“At the beginning, we were very aware that we weren’t men and that we were playing men. But you don’t even notice it any more. It’s a given that that is a man. It’s become really clear and we’ve almost forgotten that we’re all women!”
For the most part, they have stuck to the original and Sawar had unexpected expertise in this, on her very doorstep.
She told www.asianculturevulture.com: “It’s written in verse and we wanted to adhere to that so you have to really be on your lines; finishing the end of your lines and starting new lines and so forth.
“That’s been a challenge in terms of putting that in practice and making it a clear story.
“I read the original play and I’ve got a French flatmate whose whole family is from Bergerac! So that was really useful because it’s one of her favourite plays.
“The original has really been apparent in our rehearsals and something that the girls and director will refer to as well.”
This all female version premiered in Chester in 2013 but comes to the capital for the first time. Written in the original French by Edward Rostand in 1897, it has been adapted by Glyn Maxwell alongside producers, Lauren Brown, Chloe Courtney and director Russel Bolam.
Sawar is in much demand and will be centre screen in the BBC film, “Murdered by my father“, something of a corollary to the earlier and highly acclaimed, “Murdered by my boyfriend“.
*The plot goes something like this – Cyrano de Bergerac is a brilliant poet and duellist (as is the tradition of challenging opponents in 17th France). However, he has a large nose and most recoil from him physically, but he offsets this by writing poetry which is often entrancing and seductive. Somewhat infatuated by the younger and very beautiful Roxane, but unable to tell her how he truly he feels, he enlists the help of Christian, a handsome prince who is betrothed to Roxanne. The younger man feels uneasy about the match, as he considers himself no equal for Roxanne’s intellect or sophistication. Cyrano hatches a plan which is at the very heart of the drama – and there are a few twists and turns along the way.
‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ until March 19, Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD
Tel/Box office: 020 7407 0234
Main picture: Kiran Sonia Sawar; Tamzin Griffin and Kathryn Hunter by Richard Lakos
Kiran Sonia Sawar appeared in ‘My Name is…’