He was a man who could despatch a rival swordsman with aplomb and talk the birds out of the trees. Unfortunately Cyrano de Bergerac couldn’t add good looks to his list of charms and accomplishments because he had a giant hooter.
Nigel Barrett plays the big-nosed one in a new production of Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmund Rostand’s classic play, which opens tonight at Northern Stage.
Directed by Lorne Campbell, the company’s artistic director, the play has been produced jointly with Northampton’s Royal & Derngate theatre where it premiered on April 3.
As well as the established actors with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the West End and Broadway on their CVs, Cyrano de Bergerac has an ensemble of aspiring actors who seized the chance to broaden their experience and show what they could do.
Meeting them during a rehearsal break in North Shields before the first night, it was clear they were undergoing a baptism of fire – while loving every second.
All were playing a variety of roles and learning how to move in keeping with a story set in the 17th Century and written in the 19th.
“We’re involved continuously throughout, even if we’re not speaking,” said 22-year-old Sisley Henning who is originally from Windsor but came to Newcastle in 2011 to study for a degree in Performance at Northumbria University.
After graduating with first-class honours, she “decided to stick around”.
She explained: “I really loved it up here. I volunteered with Northern Stage and went to the (Edinburgh) Fringe with them and got a job as an usher when I came back. This is my first professional job.
“The company is an ensemble so our main job is to support the main characters. We play a lot of small characters in different scenes.”
According to James Hunter, 25, who was born in the North East and studied at Newcastle College, graduating in 2011, the ensemble performers are “the glue between the scenes”.
Sisley, James, 22-year-old Sian Armstrong and Sam Bell, who is 30, are all part of North 15, a company set up by Northern Stage to provide aspiring actors with a 21-week programme of paid work experience alongside professionals.
In this case Northern Stage appears to be getting its money’s worth.
“We’ve all come from different backgrounds and areas of work and we’ve been helping each other,” said James, who left acting and the region for a while but came back with a renewed determination to make it in the theatre.
Sian, from Lancashire, is another Northumbria graduate. “I thought this would be quite intimidating beacause the others were already in the game but this has increased my confidence, making me realise we’re all in it together,” she said.
Sam, from Wallsend, has been working in various capacities in the theatre for eight years and is a member of Mixtape Theatre Company but joined North 15 to develop new skills.
Cyrano de Bergerac opens at Northern Stage tonight and runs until May 16. For tickets tel 0191 230 5151 or www.northernstage.co.uk