[Press ticket provided in exchange for a review]
A man who’s good with his words may find his way to many a woman’s heart; unless, in Cyrano’s case, his face is less pretty than the phrases he turns.
A classic by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac has been adapted by Martin Crimp, and directed by Jamie Lloyd, and turned into a force-filled feast of phrases for the modern stage.
This is a story of unrequited love; the tale of a man with a comically large nose, and an even bigger heart, famous for his words and his love of fighting. Cyrano is besotted with the beautiful Roxanne; but when she falls deeply for a handsome stranger, he finds a way to profess his feelings while keeping them hidden from her.
This show is something very different, and very special. Despite being set in 17th century France, it’s thoroughly modern, concocted of spoken word, vocal percussion and some brilliant wit, coupled with some very current fashion and contemporary staging.
This serves to highlight how little attitudes have changed in the hundreds of years between now and then: the obsession with good looks and the ridicule of those who don’t fit the mould; the gaze upon women and their place in society as objects; and the fickleness of the arts industry, and the reliance on writers to be well-connected, well-funded or well fit. Aside from the occasional reminders, it’s easy to forget that this is not, originally, a 21st-century piece.
Cyrano is incredibly self-aware, with quick quips to the audience about previous adaptations, knowing nods to modern-day society, and a whole-hearted seizure of the art of the poetry slam. The whole thing oozes cool – not only are we treated to some stunning rhymes which verge on rapping, as well as beatboxing, but the costumes are incredibly trendy, and audience members (myself included) could find themselves coveting the wardrobes of these classic characters.
The coolest of all, of course, is James McAvoy’s Cyrano. He’s both brooding and brilliant and, as you would expect, has impeccable stage presence. He oozes emotion, moving from fierce to affecting in seconds, his heartbroken hero is utterly believable and hypnotising. McAvoy’s performance makes it hard to believe anyone could resist such a man.
While it could be argued that McAvoy is far too handsome to play a man who is continually mocked for his looks, it’s a relief that he doesn’t don the traditional absurd fake appendage. It would be unrealistic and far too distracting. Instead, we are able to use our imaginations and focus on the real humour and clever wit that comes with words and actions. It also seems more realistic (people are mocked for their looks for no apparent reason; why should this be any different for a reimagining of a play like Cyrano?).
Alongside McAvoy’s fantastic performance are countless other actors who make this show extremely special. Anita-Joy Uwajeh is captivating as Roxanne: the feminist love interest who values books and brains over beauty…except when it comes to her beloved Christian (Eben Figueiredo).
Michele Austin also has great stage presence as Ragueneau and delivers her lines with a glint in her eye. Tom Edden’s weaselly De Guiche is also a joy to watch, skillfully making skin crawl while delivering some pretty witty lines.
This production is very aware of itself as an act of performance. The stage is sparse, with some very simple props and a clever mirror to play with. The use of microphones to emphasise some parts of the actors’ speech highlight’s the act of display. There is some elegant graffiti too. Could this staging be a further commentary on appearances?
Cyrano De Bergerac is an exceptional exploration of narcissism and judgement through spectacular spoken word, attitude, and some highly emotional performances. It’s not only a very special production, but it offers another opportunity to bring poetry into the mainstream.