BAMbill
In Memory of Seun Shote
This production is dedicated to the memory of original cast member Seun Shote

In rehearsal for Cyrano de Bergerac 2019

The Jamie Lloyd Company Associate Artist Zawe Ashton remembers our brother Shy

Seun,
When you stepped out of the wings, on to that stage
You didn’t seem to be acting, so much as –
happening.
Before I knew it, the audience had disappeared.
It’s so rare to find actors who can make the audience disappear.
Whose eyes you can look in to and trust.
Who you can get lost with.
Your magnetism was real.
Everyone who watched you felt the same.
Everyone who knew you felt the same.
You were one of those rare talents.
Rare people.

We met over a decade ago now.
Jamie had cast us together in that riotous retelling of Salome.
We didn’t know it then, but it would be the first of many meaningful productions with him over the years.
“Call me Shy”, was the first thing you said.
You weren’t shy.
It felt destined.
You became my fast and loyal friend.
An honest and kind collaborator.
You healed so many with your kindness. On stage and off.
I had to pretend to fall in love with you every night for a year.
With anyone else, that would have been hard.
There was little acting required.
Love followed you, Shy.
There was love in your laugh, in the spokes of your bike, in your dance moves, in your long voice notes on my phone.
You invited me to be the truest version of myself, because you were the truest version of you.
How did you manage not to give any parts of yourself away, even though the industry would often ask you to? I was so inspired by how you never shrunk to fit.
Your beloved agent Sarah Barnfield and I have talked about this at length.
We could get lost with you, but you would never lose yourself.
You were sensitive. An empath. Your individual triumphs were never complete if your peers weren’t being given an opportunity to shine.
When I was down on my luck, you’d sit next to me in the kitchen in my flat and tap out your words on the table. “They’re not reeeadddy. They’re not ready.”
You’d take it to heart.
Then when things were looking up, you had the unique gift of greeting other people’s success as your own.
There’s a cultural revolution happening, it’s taken a really long time but it is happening. “They’re finally ready for us, Shy. Ready for you.”
The unique sadness I feel in your absence, is that you won’t be here to see the spaces that are opening up for the black men and women in our industry.
Space is opening up for the authenticity you so lovingly tended in yourself.
I can’t dwell on this.
You were always happy in any space. Happy to work, to be busy, to keep representing yourself and others like you, in whatever way possible
You did yourself so proud.
You did your Mummy proud.
You were so proud to be your Mother’s son.
To be a son of Africa. Proud to be Nigerian, Yoruba. Proud to be from Hackney, Stoke Newington.
“We’re Hackney before it had the H!” we used to exclaim, stomping towards the rail station, still high off the electricity we had shared on stage.
We bonded over our borough and never stopped marvelling at how we were beating the odds living off the art we loved.
You were proud of everything your ancestors had given you.
Perhaps that’s why you were such a transcendent performer.
You knew how to keep the ancestors close, always asking them to use you for good.
Which they did in abundance.
I hope you know that. I hope you know what a singular gift they had given you.
I’m not sure you ever knew how good you really were.

When your son Ishmael was born, you found the role you were always meant to play.
I believe this was your soul’s true resting place.
Your greatest inheritance.
Your best work.
You live on through him, through all your family and of course your dearest friends.
Your brothers and sisters by choice.
Your rocks.
You will live on through Orisun, the theatre company you have created to nurture and protect stories from the African diaspora, pushing them to the forefront of the culture, to better our theatre and our society at large.

“They are ready for you.”

You will live on through your loyal collaborators.
All of us lucky enough to be touched by your presence on stage, Shy, are changed for the better.
Working with you transformed how I felt about the craft.
You valued every single soul in every building you worked in.
Everyone from security to box office staff wanted the details of how to best honour your passing.
I’m not sure there’s a better sign of a life more compassionately lived in the theatre, than that.
Every person who witnessed your work, will keep your spirit alive.

You were so many things, to so many people.
But you were an actor through and through.
It’s the profession you trained in – shout out to Manchester Polytechnic – and the profession you dedicated your life to.
You were a company man.
A man stimulated by community.
I’m so privileged to get to honour your legacy as an artist here.
I’ve been trying to find a poem or passage that could sum you up Seun – “just call me Shy”- Shote.
It’s hard.
Your soul was so full of words. Travel. Film. Music. Poetry. Slang.
It’s been impossible to find something as original, as layered, as spiritual as you were.
I came across a quote from one of the last plays you were due to perform in in the West End with Jamie and this company, so maybe this is fitting. It’s The Seagull:

“In all the universe, nothing remains permanent or unchanged - but the spirit.”

We honour your spirit, Shy.
There’s not a standing ovation long enough.

Zaw x

In rehearsal for Cyrano de Bergerac 2019

As the wind rippled through the trees I felt you next to me
In the fluorescent crescent of the moon’s smile
I felt your warm and bright energy
The wind chime sang melodies of memories laced with the heavenly
You graced us with you, who you were essentially
For that I'm truly grateful
For very few tend to be
As honest as joyful and as friendly as you
You lived your truth and that’s rare
Until we meet again in lifetimes beyond I'll feel you right here
Your spirit lives on
Thank you Seun

Eben Figueiredo
Cyrano de Bergerac company member

As Shamrayev in Seagull 2020

Edmond Rostand and his Cyrano de Bergerac
By Sue Lloyd, Author of The Man Who Was Cyrano, A Life of Edmond Rostand
Cyrano de Bergerac must be one of the best- known and best-loved plays in the world. It has been translated into almost every known language and has inspired films, operas, musicals and even a ballet.
Cyrano de Bergerac. A print from La France et les Francais a Travers les Siecles, Volume IV, F Roy editor. A Challemel, Saint-Antoine, 1882–1884. Heritage-Images / ArenaPal
Edmond Rostand was born in 1868 to prosperous and cultured parents in the southern French city of Marseilles. He first heard of the historical Cyrano de Bergerac as a schoolboy, when his teacher read the class Théophile Gautier’s essay on Cyrano. It was Gautier who suggested that the real Cyrano had a grotesquely large nose. Why else would he praise such noses in his fantasy, ‘A Voyage to the Moon’ (perhaps the first work of science fiction)? On the moon, according to the original Cyrano, a large nose is considered the sign of a brave, passionate, witty and generous nature. Rostand was intrigued by the historical Cyrano and his moon voyage, which he would draw on for Act Three of his play.

At college in Paris, Edmond came across Cyrano de Bergerac again. Impressed by his independence, imagination and wit, he vowed to write a play about him. Edmond loved this whole period of French history, when Cardinal Richelieu was the power behind the throne. Molière and Corneille were writing plays, and free-thinkers such as Cyrano were challenging the supremacy of the church. It was the time of duels and the Three Musketeers, the time of the Précieuses, such as Rostand’s heroine, Roxane. Rostand makes gentle fun of these women who used high-flown, elaborate language. But he too enjoyed playing with words.

The historical Cyrano de Bergerac lived from 1655–1691. He served, with his friend Le Bret, with the Cadets de Gascogne under Carbon de Castel-Jaloux. He was an expert swordsman and fought many duels; he wrote poetry and plays, but with little success. Cyrano did quarrel with the actor Montfleury, and he routed an armed rabble by himself at the Porte de Nesle. His challenges to thee many enemies, and his death, from a falling beam, at only thirty-five years old, may or may not have been an accident.
Jacques Destoop in Edmond Rostand’s “Bergerac’s Cyrano”, Paris, French Comedy, in July 1972. Granger / ArenaPal
Many other characters in Rostand’s play were real people, too. Cyrano had a cousin called Madeleine Robineau (not Robin) who married the baron Christophe (not Christian) de Neuvillette. The ambitious Comte de Guiche (the Cardinal’s nephew); Le Bret; the drunken poet Ligniere and the baker Ragueneau, were also historical figures, though they may not have had the characteristics given them in the play. The intrigue which forms the plot was totally imagined by Rostand, who also did not hesitate to incorporate some deliberate anachronisms when it suited him.

Edmond Rostand had originally intended to be a poet, but found he had a talent for writing drama in verse. Before composing Cyrano de Bergerac, he had already had some success in the theatre with his light-hearted comedy, Les Romanesques, the inspiration for the Americana musical, The Fantasticks.

Rostand’s next play, La Princesse lointaine (The Distant Princess), starred Sarah Bernhardt. While writing a second play for Sarah, La Samaritaine (The Samaritan Woman), Rostand began working on his Cyrano de Bergerac. He had met, through Sarah, the perfect actor for his Cyrano, Constant Coquelin, formerly of the Comédie Française. When Rostand was received into the Académie française in 1903, he told the audience:
“We need a theatre where, inspiring us with beauty, consoling us with grace, poets, without doing it deliberately, give us lessons for the soul.”
“And this is why”, he insisted, “we need dramas that are not only poetic but also heroic!” because:
“Only a hero, someone larger than life, can take us out of ordinary life and return us to it refreshed and invigorated”.
By the time he wrote Cyrano de Bergerac, Rostand was already an accomplished dramatist. But in December 1897 the success of Cyrano de Bergerac was far from certain. Verse plays were normally performed at the Comédie Française. However, by the time of Cyrano’s duel with Valvert in Act One, the audience was completely enthralled. At the next performance, Rostand was decorated with the Legion of Honour; he had suddenly become a celebrity.

cyranoandrostand2.com
Edmond Rostand (1868–1918). Roger-Violett / ArenaPal

Rehearsals

Stills from the rehearsal studio in London

Rehearsal photography: Marc Brenner