Cyrano de Bergerac Review
This to me primarily is a play about the beauty of words and how you use them; it’s the way those beautiful words are delivered that compels me to award it five stars.
Cyrano de Bergerac was a real person, a French soldier, poet and playwright, who lived from 1655-1691, and who supposedly had an outrageously large nose. French playwright Edmond Rostand was intrigued enough by Cyrano to write a play about him in 1897, in rhyming couplets as Moliere or Shakespeare would have done. The story is, briefly, that Cyrano loves his cousin, the lady Roxane, but she loves the good-looking Christian instead. Roxane is a fan of beautiful language; unfortunately Christian, despite his film star looks, cannot string a coherent sentence together, and Cyrano becomes involved in writing gorgeously-worded love letters from Christian to Roxane. This allows Cyrano to express his own love by proxy and of course things become complicated.
The current version at the Playhouse is a completely new translation (or even transformation) of the original Rostand play by Martin Crimp. It’s directed by Jamie Lloyd, whose versions of Pinter plays at the Pinter, and Evita at Regent’s Park really impressed me. It is utterly modernised in language but still with the rhyming couplets; rap and beatboxing elements feature heavily and different accents across the cast all lend the production depth and linguistic interest. This includes quite copious swearing and sexual references so it’s not suitable for younger audiences or the easily offended.
The set is as spare as spare can be, with plywood walls, stark overhead lights, plastic chairs and no props. It’s stripped right down to focus on the characters and the language. Those characters are compelling: most particularly for me Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Roxane, Tom Edden as powerful nobleman and Cyrano’s enemy De Guiche, and overwhelmingly James McAvoy as Cyrano. I have never seen an actor hold the stage as McAvoy did in this play. He has a compelling physical presence and moves here in a deliberately measured and sometimes braggardly way – like a panther or a jaguar – while at the same expressively conveying Cyrano’s uncertainty and fear of rejection in love. He’s speaking with his own Glaswegian accent and every word, down to the quietest whisper, counts. This was the most rapt audience I’ve ever witnessed at the theatre. Yes we laughed, and there was the odd cough, but boy did we listen.
As for the theatre, we were in the centre stalls and had a great view of the stage and facial expressions. Seats were comfortable although legroom was a little tight. The circle above is high with no noticeable overhang so seats right at the back and even the stalls standing places behind them would have a great view; I couldn’t comment on the higher levels as I didn’t go up there. Ushers were very helpful and the queue for the loos on the lower ground level moved quickly.
Overall this was a really outstanding theatrical experience and I loved it.