As a child, Claude Jabbour dreamed of performing on Full Frontal or Fast Forward. MTC’s world premiere production of Cyrano isn’t a sketch comedy show but it is sure to make you laugh, and to fall in love with theatre all over again. There is ‘so much joy in it,’ the actor and comedian says. That is ‘the element of theatre that I think I missed the most in this last couple of years, with everything that we’ve all gone through.’
In addition to acting, you’re also a writer and comedian. How did you get your start in writing and performing?
I always had a very supportive family and community, and my first performances were in front of family and friends, imitating relatives. But we didn't really know people who were working in the arts, or have any kind of indication of what the conventional pathways were to those avenues, so from a young age I often found creative ways to find audiences and to get my work seen. I had many teachers who would tell you that I was always negotiating through high school to get 10 minutes at the end of every assembly to perform my comedy sketches and impersonations of teachers – which I often succeeded in doing (I always tried to approach these from a warm place, which they welcomed). There wasn’t a huge drama program then, so that was my outlet in those early years.
I continued in that vein, and just kept creating my own work and eventually started to showcase comedy sketches online, and started to pick up traction from there.
Were there any particular inspirations that made you want to be an entertainer?
Staying up watching Full Frontal or Fast Forward. That was what I used to dream about doing – and not really tell anyone! That was when I fell in love with performing, watching Julia Morris and Eric Bana and those types of people: I was fascinated by them at a young age, and it was always a dream to me, to be on a show like Full Frontal.
It may not be Full Frontal but you’ve acted alongside some pretty well-known folk (Cate Blanchett, Jack Thompson, Hugo Weaving). What did you learn from these experiences?
I’ve been really fortunate that the people that I’ve worked with at that calibre have always seemed to me to be some of the most generous people with their time, really warm and supportive and acknowledging, even of me when I was only playing smaller roles. I recently finished a series called Eden, alongside Samuel Johnson who was a hero of mine growing up, and I’ve been taken aback by his humility and his generosity. I hope that as I get older I can do the same thing for younger actors.
It must be a bit surreal to turn up on set to work with one of your heroes?
Absolutely! I’m having that experience here in rehearsal when I’m watching Virginia. I’m genuinely pinching myself! It’s surreal at times and it’s something I don’t think I really ever want to get used to. That’s part of what makes it exciting.
You have done quite a bit of screen work. How do you find stage acting differs?
I’ve always wanted a career that has a lot of variety so I can work in lots of different spaces. I do think there is quite a difference between screen and stage: I find the screen particularly challenging. It sometimes can come and go very quickly – you’re waiting for your moment, then you get a couple of takes and it’s gone. That can be restrictive in terms of following your impulses or trying things, but it gets better over time in terms of knowing what to expect as an actor.
‘I could visualise people enjoying this and that gave me a really great feeling. I just thought: I need to be part of this.’
I personally have always been drawn to theatre and live performance because I’ve enjoyed the idea of getting to do it and find something different every night. And the fact that there’s something magical about it and that it’s not entirely up to you; sometimes the atmosphere will dictate things, sometimes you discover something in the moment. That’s what I’ve always been drawn to in performance.
How much did you know about Cyrano before starting work on this version?
I had never read the original play. I was most familiar with the movie Roxanne, which I loved, but I hadn’t seen other adaptations. I’ve since gone back and had a look at the old play, and having read it there was that moment of recognition – that I knew this story already as it’s such a part of the culture in many ways, and it is a classic kind of rom-com with an appeal to it that I think everyone can recognise.
What were your thoughts when you first read Virginia’s script?
I said to Virginia after I read it that it kind of woke me up from somewhere, it just grabbed me. I was struck by the warmth of the play and there was so much joy in it; I felt that it was really inviting, and really fun, and they were the elements of theatre I missed the most in these last couple of years, with everything that we’ve all gone through. Also I could visualise people enjoying this and that gave me a really great feeling. I just thought: I need to be part of this.
What excites you about playing Yan?
This is where I would really credit Virginia’s writing because although Yan is a character who comes from a lot of privilege and things going quite easily for him, he’s got a pure heart and a real naïvety on the other side of the coin. That appeals to me: to try to find the elements of Yan that we have in all of us, and hopefully try to communicate that through the character.
And what creative challenges does the role present you as an actor?
I don’t have a really extensive background in theatre, so it is challenging to navigate elements of voice and movement that are really different from theatre to screen, having been working very much in the screen space for the last couple of years. So that’s the challenge for me as a performer, but it’s exciting and I’m certainly in very good hands; I’ve got a fantastic team around me and I feel very supported. And it’s the sort of challenge that I jump at the opportunity to take on.
Tell us something about yourself that most people wouldn’t necessarily know.
I’m the founder and president of a community soccer club, which was started seven years ago. That club has now grown into a major fixture in our community and has boys and girls of all ages playing. Outside of acting, that’s another real passion of mine and gives me a lot of joy.
Published on 16 July 2021