The Theatreguide.London Review
Cyrano De Bergerac
Playhouse Theatre Winter 2019-2020
An audacious updating
and up-shaking of a venerable classic, this new version of Edmond
Rostand's nineteenth-century romantic swashbuckler triumphs on every
If you know the play you
will encounter many delightful
surprises; if you don't, you will enjoy it thoroughly on its own
As we are somehow all born knowing, this is the tale of a seventeenth-century French soldier-poet whose abnormally large nose makes him feel unlovable, so that he channels his adoration of the beauteous Roxanne into ghost-writing letters and speeches of love for the handsome-but-dim Christian.
Adapter Martin Crimp
Jamie Lloyd start their re-invention with the recognition that the
rhymed couplets of the original French text are not very distant
cousins to the rhyming-over-rhythm of modern rap and hip-hop. So at
least the opening scenes are played over a beatbox, firmly placing
this rehearsal-dress production in the modern world.
The beatbox is
allowed to fade away after a while, though the actors continue to use
hand mics to turn some of their showier speeches into performances.
And the twenty-first century sensibility remains, not least in the
feisty feminist personality given to the traditionally
leather-jacketed Cyrano is
very much a modern urban figure driven by a nervous energy and racing
intelligence that won't let him stand still. In this version he is as
much a poet as soldier or lover, driven by a love of language and
anger at its misuse.
The first great
set-piece of the play, his
ironic chastisement of a fool for insulting him unimaginatively, is
played here entirely as a language-lover's disgust with the banal –
it is the poet more than the big-nosed man who has been offended.
Which brings us to the
nose. Audaciously, director Lloyd and actor
McAvoy have chosen to omit the facial putty entirely.
have a big nose, everyone onstage comments on it, he is emotionally
crippled by it, but we don't see it. And so, like the elephant in the
room, it looms even larger for being invisible.
The second great
set-piece of the play is the balcony scene in which, hidden by
darkness, Cyrano feeds the tongue-tied Christian the eloquent and
poetic language with which to woo Roxanne, ultimately taking over and
saying the words for him. (McAvoy gets a valid and deserved laugh by
imitating the accent Eben Figueiredo had been using as Christian)
McAvoy captures what too
few actors playing Cyrano realise – that
for all its comedy this scene is intensely erotic and really about
the unbearable mix of ecstasy and frustration Cyrano feels in being
able to speak his feelings for Roxanne out loud.
It is a
heartbreaking scene, made all the more effective by McAvoy's
restraint in not over-milking the pathos.
And that is another
innovation by actor and director. Cyrano has traditionally been
played in the grand manner, but McAvoy dominates the play through the
counter-intuitive device of underplaying.
It is because the
works hard to maintain an unruffled exterior that he seems so much
stronger and magnetic than those around him, and it is because the
actor generally avoids big showy effects that we catch every small
indicator of the emotions Cyrano is working so hard to disguise.
doesn't all work. While Eben Figueiredo's Christian is no more dense
and ultimately irrelevant than most, Anita-Joy Uwajeh makes Roxanne's
repeated insistence that her lover woo her in pretty language sound
more like a poetry groupie than a woman in love.
In spite of her
attractive modern personality, this Roxanne seems particularly
shallow and unworthy of Cyrano's lifetime of devotion.
completely rewriting the play's final scene to bring it in keeping
with the modern setting, Martin Crimp loses much of the exquisite
autumnal beauty of the original.
In all, though, far more
doesn't in this richly inventive adaptation, a laugh in the faces of
those purists who would never allow any tampering with a classic.
I have no doubt that somebody somewhere is at this moment working on a hip-hop Hamlet, and this triumphant Cyrano makes me unable to say with certainty it would be a bad idea.
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