THEATRE / Leading by a nose: a brief history of a famous feature

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Forget the poetry, forget the swordsmanship: the first thing everyone will notice when Robert Lindsay walks on stage tonight for the opening performance of the new Cyrano de Bergerac is the nose. Designing that proboscis is no small task. In this case, the job fell to Aaron Sherman of Sherman Laboratories.

'The designer gave us some sketches to work from,' says Sherman (who casts an expert eye over Cyrano noses past, right). 'But you can never really tell until you do it as a three-dimensional sculpt: you can draw anything you want but having it work on someone's face is a different matter. We face-cast it, so we had not just his nose but the whole area around it. This is so we could keep his nose in context with the face. Noses are not like masks - they're designed to fit faces, so they're not recyclable.

'The shape has a lot to do with the way the actor and director see the part,' he adds. 'Lindsay (see first photo, right) wanted something noticeable but not one that would make him comical.'

Lindsay will need a fresh set of nostrils every day. 'Most of the time we use a foam rubber. It's very light, very flexible. But when you remove it, you lose the edges of the nose. This makes the foam rubber unworkable. So every time he goes on stage a new nose has to be made from the mould. If you tried to recycle it, it would look like a nose that was stuck on. It should be believable.'

The nose repellent

Tom Mannion in Communicado's 1992 stage version. 'It's almost as if there's some kind of deformity here, not just a big nose. They obviously had a reason. It's not like somebody carved it out of a piece of cheese and just stuck it on.'

The nose conceivable

Gerard Depardieu in the 1990 film. 'I imagine he has a fairly big nose to start with, so they probably just built from the tip outwards. They've done it really well because it's still within the realms of being believable. It's quite elegant.'

The nose ascentant

Jose Ferrer in the 1950 film. 'This is the kind of comic nose that people would expect to see: an upturned, unbelievable nose. You can see how techniques and materials have improved. It's probably made of some sort of plastic.'

The nose terpsichorean

Stephen Jefferies in the 1991 Royal Ballet production. 'This looks a serious nose; it's got a bump in the middle. It's catching a lot of light - I wonder what the make-up department did to it? But on stage it's got to be visible far away.'

The nose refulgent

Steve Martin in the 1986 film 'Roxanne'. 'It's comical because it looks as if someone has got hold of his nose and pulled it outwards - it's not a hideous thing. In terms of technique it was brilliantly done - you can't see the joins] - 'Cyrano de Bergerac' opens at the Haymarket, SW1 tonight (071-930 8800)

(Photographs omitted)