The Merry Wives - In conversation with Andy Cryer

In their latest production, Northern Broadsides are touring Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives’, and doing what they do best, they’ve reinterpreted Shakespeare’s original, catapulting its characters into the 1920’s.

By Manchester's Finest | 15 March 2016

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In their latest production, Northern Broadsides are touring Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives’, and doing what they do best, they’ve reinterpreted Shakespeare’s original, catapulting its characters into the 1920’s.

It’s the 1920s in the North of England and Sir John Falstaff is past-his-prime and skint!

Vain rogue that he is, he attempts, rather clumsily, to seduce a couple of well-to-do wives … but Mistress Page and Mistress Ford get wise to his plan and scheme to exact revenge with hilarious and unimaginable consequences.

Formed in 1992 by Artistic Director Barrie Rutter, Northern Broadsides is a multi-award winning touring company based in the historic Dean Clough Mill in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Productions are noted for their distinctive northern voice, strong musicality and clear narrative journey. Northern Broadsides’ unique theatrical voice is inventive, invigorating, and accessible to all.

Manchester’s Finest got the chance to talk to Andy Cryer before he took to the stage playing one of the production’s leading men Dr Caius.

Andy discusses preparation, future ambition and what it is that brings him back to Northern Broadsides time after time.

Could you tell us a little bit about the character you play?

I play a mad French doctor Dr Caius; you can tell you’re in the land of comedy because I’m a renowned doctor and physician but absolutely obsessed with fighting – at a drop of the hat I will fight a duel, so that’s me! It’s really good fun.

How did you prepare for your character – does this process vary dependant on role?

I’ve worked for Northern Broadsides a lot in their 25 year history, so what Barrie asks people to do is be familiar with the play and familiar with the role. Barrie is, however, a great advocate of not coming with the part learnt but rather trying different things and, really, playing in rehearsals and then seeing what the end product is! This is a way I really enjoy working, too.

I did do a little bit of preparation on my French accent. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’s French, so, before we started rehearsals, I went round to my friend’s house and had him help me. Some of the lines that Dr Caius says are actually in French so it was great to have him tell me not only if it was the correct pronunciation, but actually tell me what the lines mean. He was laughing his head off because it’s really bad French so I don’t know whether Shakespeare was creating a joke on another joke or whether Shakespeare’s grasp for French wasn’t that great!

Do you find that acting in a Shakespearian play is easier when set in a different era?

Not really because I think one of the many great things about Shakespeare as a playwright is that the subjects that he talks about lend themselves to any era right up until the now; the love, the hate and the humour, and all the themes that are in his different plays. Jealousy and all those issues still affect us and make us run as human beings.

You’ve played many Shakespearian roles not only with Northern Broadsides but radio too. How do these experiences compare?

I enjoyed doing radio work – the nice thing about radio work is the audience has just got your voice. It’s sometimes a better opportunity to play parts that you might not necessarily look right for but you sound right for. When I did The Tempest for Radio 4 I played Ferdinand who’s the romantic lead. Most probably if that was on stage, I’d be a couple of years over the romantic lead part. The big difference between radio and performing on the stage is that you don’t need to learn your lines; you’ve got your script in front of you! With any Shakespeare though you need to do the homework and understand what the lines are, and what the lines are saying.

You’ve work with Northern Broadsides on a regular basis – what is it about the company that brings you back?

After all these years Barrie has become an old friend and its very flattering to no longer audition but to be asked would you like to come back and play this part – the parts that I’ve played have always been nice parts that have interested me.

I’m a Northern lad from Scarborough and I feel a sense of pride to be allowed to use my voice, my natural voice to play roles. It’s not street dialect; we don’t drop our h’s and t’s. The most important thing is that the audience hear every word. Because naturally we all have those shorter vowel sounds, our delivery of the lines ensures more speed and pace. I think because of that the audiences seem to understand the script much better.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in Q&A’s after the show and audience members have said we really enjoyed it – who put all the rewrites in? To which we say we never change a line of Shakespeare. I think because we’re talking like our audience, our audience seems to understand the play better, and that’s something I’m proud of. Being an actor you want to communicate stories, and if people are understanding and enjoying those stories, it’s brilliant. That’s what draws me back to the company again and again.

Northern Broadsides usually include musical elements in their productions – is this the case in this production and is it ever daunting for you as an actor?

Conrad our Musical Director sometimes will just present you with a musical instrument. One time he just came to me with a double-bass and said I need you to learn the bass line, and typical Conrad, it wasn’t just one bass line, in fact, by the end of the show it was about three different bass lines!

There’s something exciting about that, being asked to learn a new musical skill. Usually the music that I contribute is the drums – I’m a drummer, so more often than not I’m left to come up with a percussion line or a couple of chords on the guitar.

Conrad had an idea that, with this being set in the 1920’s, it should have an early, sort of traditional jazz, Charleston music sound. So he sat us all down and asked what we could play. Now he’s had to create a four piece band with a banjo, a guitar, double-bass and drums because they’re the only instruments that people can play!

Is there a script or production you would like to play in next?

I’m actually fulfilling an ambition after this – I’ve been asked to perform in Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 80th play at Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.

When I was 13 years old I worked for Alan on a production and I’ve been his friend ever since; but our paths have never quite crossed at the points where I’ve been available or the part has been right. At last, it’s play number 80, and he asked if I would like to be part of it. So I’m fulfilling a major ambition in my next role, in being able to work with Alan Ayckbourn.