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CYRANO Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

NOBILITY AND THE NOSE  on tour  Touring Mouse wide

 

You’ve hardly sat down before there’s a jolly mass drinking-song in pantaloons, leather breastplates and hat-feathers being romped through in front of cod-17c drapes covered in zodiac signs, followed by a magnificent somersaulting dwarf pickpocket emerging from a bustle, a wild chase, a fabulous spread of patisserie and a violent duel with rapiers in a theatre not unlike our own dear Bury. During which Cyrano simultaneously swashbuckles, leaps on and off tables and recites a complicated duel-poem. Then off he goes to fight a hundred men waiting in ambush for a friend, bring their hats home as trophies and proceed with sighing of love and despairing of his ugliness.

 

Which is to say, of his huge nose. Which, be reassured ladies, though a fine prosthesis which never falls off even in extreme fight scenes, does not entirely quench the gorgeous Christian Edwards’ appeal. Energy attracts, even accompanied by the strangest of noses, and energy is what Edwards has in abundance.
It’s a mad, poetic, roistering, barnstorming thing, Rostand’s original 1890’s play. Cyrano’s ugliness makes him despair of being loved by the lovely and brilliant Roxane, but also fuels a headlong, pugnacious arrogance and “ferocious integrity”. And, as it turns out, a sort of self-sacrificing but bonkers nobility which (I speak as a past French schoolchild) strikes me as the rich rank fruit of a Roman Catholic culture. There were a lot of martyrs in our convent school curriculum, back then. Also, a lot of rhetorical flourishes, and Rostand is not short of those: so in adapting it Deborah McAndrew goes for broke with the long speeches, rhymes, and almost rap-style rapid assonances dear to Cyrano and his cohort of warlike cadet poets, plus the devoted patissier Ragueano and the drunken yet musically gifted Ligniere.

 

 

So, very French, not least in a plot which makes even Shakespeare’s more exotic flights seem realistic. Roxane, here a dignifiedly mournful-looking Sharon Singh, is desired by the wicked count De Guiche, who tries to marry her to a wet nobleman who will be willing to share her favours. Cyrano, her cousin, loves her purely, to the extent that he’ll disrupt a theatre with that crazy rhyming duel merely out of fury that the star once looked lustfully at her. She, however, falls for pretty-boy Christian (Adam Barlow) who has no gift of language. So Cyrano writes the love letters – a beloved Victorian-era trope, that – prompts the dimbo lover from a dark bush and finally takes over, standing aside only for Christian to claim the actual kiss and the bride, leaving our big-schnozzled hero bereft. Everyone off to war, then, and there’s a death, and a revelation of how Roxane really feels. Fourteen years pass and, amid some nuns, there’s the love ’n death scene.

 
Which goes on too long. That is a problem. At 2 hrs 45 minutes a generally highly enjoyable romp could have done with stern trimming by director-composer Conrad Nelson: too many long poetic flights, so that at some moments you feel you actually have lived through the Thirty Years War. But take away twenty minutes and it’d be perfect. The songs are lovely, Edwards is tremendous, and the ensemble are Northern Broadsides at their merriest: broad Yorkshire and Lancashire voices suiting the military rowdiness and banter brilliantly well .

 

Indeed all the cast are smart, funny and elegantly choreographed. A particular palm should go to Francesca Mills as the tumbling pickpocket, the patissier’s apprentice and a small but resolute nun . Not because she is of “restricted growth” but because in athleticism, comic timing, clarity and utterly credible sincerity of reaction she’d be a treasure at any height, in any company.
01284 769505, http://www.theatreroyal.org to 6 May Then TOURING on – dates, www. northern-broadsides.co.uk
rating four   4 Meece Rating
joint production by NOrthern Broadsides and New Vic

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CYRANO DE BERGERAC Royal, Northampton

RHETORICAL ROMANCE…
Ah, Cyrano! Fighter, scholar, poet, maverick: ever since Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, set in an imagined musketeer-y 17c, he has been an archetype of reckless generosity. Last of the courtly-love serenaders, patron of all unrequited lovers who nobly plead their rival’s cause. No wonder stars from Jacobi to Kevin Kline have been delighted to slap on the rubber conk and do him honour.

Loving Roxane, but cursed with that immense red nose, Cyrano writes divine love-letters for the “comely but dumb” Christian , thus convincing her that her lover has a great soul. Cyrano brokers the marriage, and struggles with his feelings when (somewhat unconvincingly) she declares that the letters are so great she would love Christian for his soul even if he was ugly. He comforts her long widowhood, only to reveal accidentally in his lengthy, delirious, sword-waving death scene that the great soul was him all the time.
The play has become a musical and several versions. but this is the most famous: Anthony Burgess’ translation is partly in verse like the French alexandrine original and, unfortunately for us, is faithful to its extreme Gallic ornamental verbosity. The first hour of the 105-minute first half , despite the side-plot about Ragueneau the provisions man and the envious grandee Ligniere, provides nothing exciting except the ensemble of Gascon cadets in white fencing-gear shouting a lot. The word ‘gruelling’ should not occur to one in a theatre: if director Lorne Campbell irreverently took the Burgess by the horns and did some brisk telescoping, it might not do so.
It is set – play-within-a-play – not as per original in a hotel, but for some reason in a gymnasium where the ensemble put bits of costume over their white fencing-kit to express each part. I can’t say that the gym added anything: if you’re not going naturalistic, black curtains would do as well in such an excessively verbal and often static play. Comedy and feeling both improve, though , as Nigel Barrett’s Cyrano takes Chris Jared’s Christian in hand and dictates every swooning line for him to speak under Roxane’s balcony, saying her name swings like a brazen bell, etc. Christian wins his kiss and betrothal while the big distorted man sits grieving nobly in the shadow. At which point I must say that Barrett is absolutely tremendous in this title role: declamatory and dry by turns, physically commanding, every inch the warrior. No complaints there.
But despite the point well made in the programme about Burgess’ empathy with flawed, gallant extreme mavericks, there is something curiously out of tune about the play: more so than Shakespeare or Sophocles. The courtly-love trope, the idea of convincing a woman of your ‘genius’ by larding on intemperate praise, feels almost insulting even when filtered through French 19c cynical asides. Roxane’s eager demand that Christian’s stumbled “I love you” should be “embroidered with golden tapestries” is downright irritating.
Cyrano’s generosity – as evoked by Barrett – is moving, and the concept of the “panache” betokening his pure soul is well carried. We believe his “I am a tree, not high, not beautiful, but free”. Roxane is chirpily strong-willed and turns up on the very battlefield to join her lover; Cath Whitefield plays her very beguilingly in black tights, and achieves genuine dignity in the final fifteen-years-on scenes in the convent with sick impoverished old Cyrano. But a question kept rising in my head: “Do we need this play, in this style, here and now?” Not convinced.

box office BOX OFFICE 01604 624811 http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk to 25 April
A joint production with Northern Stage; runs in Newcastle from 29 April

rating three 3 Meece Rating

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