1997 marks the centenary of the play's first performance and the RSC have done a quality production, even if it is far too long!
The story concerns Cyrano de Bergerac, a poet with great wit and charm. He is also a fine swordsman and is very brave. He has fallen in love with his cousin, Roxane, but he is unable to express his love for her. This is because he has a very big nose which Cyrano believes makes him look ugly, therefore, Roxane would not be willing to reciprocate his love. Things get worse when Roxane confides in him that she is in love with the handsome, but dim, Christian de Neuvillette, a young baron from Normandy. Then, if this was not enough, Christian in order to woe Roxanne has Cyrano write love poems on his behalf.
The last production of Cyrano I saw was at the Cottesloe, National theatre in 1995, which I did not enjoy at all. So I was a little apprehensive, yet curious, to see what the RSC production would be like, particularly with Antony Sher in the starring role.
This play is well produced with some fine acting and witty dialogue. Antony Sher, who won an Olivier award for Best Actor in 1996 for the title role of Stanley, is once again excellent, this time playing Cyrano. He is delightful and charming and captures the essence of his character perfectly. He also has great comic timing and delivery. It will be very hard to find a better Cyrano! Also impressive is the performance of Alexandra Gilbreath who is a great 'Roxane'. Raymond Coulthard as the dim-witted, but handsome 'Christian de Neuvillette' performs adequately, but he, like the rest of the cast, are outshone by the impressive performances of the leads Sher and Gilbreath.
Cyrano de Bergerac has received favourable reviews from the popular press. JAMES CHRISTOPHER in THE TIMES says of Antony Sher, "He turns in one of the most compelling Cyranos in recent years" and goes on to say the production has "Entertainment tattooed all over it." THE MAIL ON SUNDAY says "Superb production". BRIAN LOGAN of TIME OUT says, "While this isn't an inventive production, it's stylish." THE GUARDIAN says, "Anthony Sher's radical Cyrano is a triumph". THE DAILY MAIL says " A really fine centenary production".
It is very hard to find a bad production by the RSC, but on many occasions being too long spoils them. With this production lasting over three hours it lacked the pace needed to make it excellent.
This production with Antony Sher as Cyrano and directed by Gregory Doran has in the words of the man himself 'PANACHE'.
It is also a hymn to all things French, from the art of duelling to unrequited love, to the love of food-who else but a Frenchman-Edmond Rostand would have a scene set in a hard at work pastry shop, at seven O'clock in the morning, filled with staff, customers, poets, lovers and fiery Gascons all coming and going.
For those who do not know the story it is 17th Century France and Cyrano de Bergerac -he of the big nose of which he both proud and embarrased-is in love with his beautiful cousin Roxanne.She of course is oblivious to this and has falled for the charms of Christian, a young baron from Normandy. He has the looks but the intellect to woo her. Step in Cyrano, who as well as fighting 100 men single handed when necessary, also has a way with words . He composes the love letters with which Christian courts Roxanne. The famous balcony sceneat the end of act one with Cyrano in the shadows speaking for Christian shows Sher at the height of his talents both tragic and comedic which culminate in all and sundry being swept off to Arras to fight the Spanish.
All the main characters including the pastry shop owner and Roxanne assemble in Arras, Roxanne bringing much needed victuals and battle commences, culminating in the death of Christian in Roxanne's arms clutching the last love letter. Cyrano has been continuing to write on Christians's behalf at least twice a day while at Arras, skipping through the enemy lines to despatch them. Roxanne in despair retreats to a Convent where in the final scene fifteeen years later she finally learns from Cyrano himself near to death of his love for her.
This RSC production has a cast of 18 who double, treble, quadruple up to bring 17th C France alive in the form of actors at a theatre to effete nobility, to fiery Gascon soldiers, to pastry cooks and to nuns. A happy boisterous cast who bring out the comedy in the play. Alexandra Gilbreath endears Roxanne to you by her flirtation, cunning and steetwise attitude and Raymond Coulthard knows he has the looks but not much else to woo his lady with. But it is Antony Sher who towers above all with his bravado, fencing skills, love-sickness and the effortlessness with which he brings Cyrano to life with such PANACHE.