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Jamie Lloyd: ‘It’s not just about having a nose on stage’

The super-director on his radical ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, exciting future projects, and why James McAvoy is so awesome

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

It was going to be such a good year: Jamie Lloyd’s wildly acclaimed James McAvoy-starring ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ was just about to go to New York; his production of ‘The Seagull’ featuring Emilia Clarke was in previews; and he had Jessica Chastain lined up for his next play. Then lockdown hit, and it all went out of the window. Two years on, ‘Cyrano’ and its star are back in London and ‘The Seagull’ is ready to fly again.

We were expecting ‘The Seagull’ to return but it was a nice surprise to see ‘Cyrano’ again…

‘It just felt good to get everybody back together. We got asked to take it to BAM [in New York], but we wanted to be part of the reopening of the West End as well, to bring it back as a celebration – and create some jobs!’

It’s quite a far-out ‘Cyrano’.

‘You could actually do a very traditional production of Martin Crimp’s text. But it was a conscious decision to cast people who were into rap or spoken word. They make it their own, which is why the language often sounds like rap or slam poetry.’

Did you have any doubts about taking out Cyrano’s big nose?

‘There are great teachings in these classic plays: the big spiritual and philosophical questions of our history. Then with “The Seagull”, everyone is always like: have you got a samovar? And it’s so funny: that’s not what the play is about. With this, it’s just not about having a nose on stage.’

James McAvoy in Cyrano de Bergerac
Photograph: Courtesy Marc BrennerCyrano de Bergerac

James McAvoy is your regular leading man – what’s so special about him?

‘I just think he’s a great artist. He takes such bold risks, he goes into the real depths of human emotions, but he has this light touch. But to be honest the main thing is, he’s a really good guy: look at the pandemic, all the money he gave to the NHS, and that’s just the stuff that he does publicly. He’s constantly looking out for other people and wants everybody to have a good time and be cared for, and I think maybe that’s as a result of certain challenges he’s faced in his own life. Ultimately what you see on stage is a big heart. I absolutely love him.’

How was it when ‘The Seagull’ had to close?

‘I actually wasn’t there that day because I had what I assume was Covid. When Broadway got shut down, I was thinking: I’m not sure that it’s a cool thing for us to do, to be asking people to sit in a packed theatre. So when the decision was made, it came as a bit of a relief. But we all thought it would just be a couple of months, right?’

Is there a sense of unfinished business in ‘The Seagull’ company?

‘Yeah, for sure. But WhatsApp’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s a way of keeping a little community together. I’m not sure if scheduling will allow literally everyone to come back, but everyone’s up for it. It’ll be two and a half years, and we only did a few performances: it’s totally unfinished. We’re all different people now.’

Will ‘A Doll’s House’ with Jessica Chastain still happen?

‘We were emailing just the other day! She’s as passionate as ever about it. It’s just a case of finding the dates as she’s obviously very busy. Maybe this year, maybe next year, but it will happen for sure’. 

You directed a couple of Steven Sondheim musicals: what are your memories of him?

As you do when somebody passes away you look back over correspondence, emails and of course his letters have become such a famous thing – everybody’s got a letter from Sondheim! You look at the level of support and the fact he’d come and see everything, it was amazing. And some very funny comments, and so specific and grateful, it’s kind of amazing. He was a huge huge loss.

And Antony Sher passed away recently too – he was incredible in your production of Pinter’s ‘One for the Road’, which much have been his penultimate stage role…

‘I was very moved, because he said it was one of the things he was the proudest of in his entire career, he’d never done Pinter before. It was an exceptional performance wasn’t it? And kind of unexpected. To be honest, he almost came with that performance ready-made on day one. The preparation was insane. And he’d come in before every rehearsal and show and run the entire thing. On a day off he’d run the lines with my assistant. He was really hungry for feedback and he put everything you ever suggested into it, it was kind of amazing, and he was such a kind man. 

‘And of course, we lost our friend [actor] Seun Shote, we’re dedicating both productions to him. He was a vital part of the creation of “Cyrano”, it's still very moving to this day, when you hear a line that he said. There’s a hole at the centre of this production that’s really hard to fill. It's been a sad year!’

‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ is at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Until Mar 12. Buy tickets here.

‘The Seagull’ is at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Jun 29-Sep 10. Buy tickets here.

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