Cyrano de Bergerac, the man with a preposterously large proboscis with which he looks down upon all that is pretentious and sniffs out the hypocritical whom he then slashes in two with his eloquence of speech or his nimbleness of swordplay, is one of theatre’s beloved romantic heroes.
Cyrano is in love with his beautiful and sophisticated cousin Roxane, but believes that she could never reciprocate because of his facial disfigurement. When he discovers that Roxane is romantically interested in the simple and unlettered Christian he realises that the latter has no chance of wooing and winning Roxane’s heart. Therefore, Cyrano takes Christian under his wing and composes love verses for Christian to send to his beloved Roxane - in this way Cyrano can express his heart’s love without being discovered. Cyrano’s one desire is for Roxane’s happiness even if he must forever remain in the shadows.
This poignant love story, which is guaranteed to touch even the most cynical heart, is robbed of its emotional angst in Howard Davies’ production. In the programme notes Davies says his production is “about scraping away the bare romanticism of the play”. In doing so he has left us with a mutilated production of Cyrano in which its heart has been deliberately cut out. May be this explains why Cyrano’s love couplet, spoken to Roxane whilst hidden under her balcony, sounds soulless; there is no heart to put into the lovesick verses.
This is further aggravated by Derek Mahon’s adaptation, in which the panache poetic Cyrano is diminished to asinine pithy lines, such as describing the Gascon cadets as “This bunch of shits” and such chic couplets as “As for the nose, I’d sooner lose my dick; Besides, the woman like it when I lick.” This crudeness hardly composes an image of a man of panache. I also found it annoying to hear words like ‘Ecology’ and ‘Euro’ - even Einstein gets a mention - in a play that is supposedly set in the late nineteenth century.
William Dudley’s stage design of a giant scaffold, again creates the impression of a play that has been stripped of its flesh! Though the budget for this production is small, a scaffold hardly seems the best prop to assist the audience in imagining the auditorium of a theatre, or a convent garden, although it does work well in the war scene. The scaffold’s use as a giant climbing frame upon which the cast hang in stylised choreographed movements grows increasingly distracting.
Davies’ says of his production “We’re taking away the illusionistic trappings and concentrating on telling a story”, so why the choreographed dance that merely lengthens this passionless production!
Stephen Rea, despite the production’s failings, does create a memorable Cyrano. He may not dazzle you with his use of verse, and singularly fails to express any romance, but he does show the vulnerability of a man whose panache is a means to disguise his pain. And though his panache is not of the romantic kind, it does capture the heroic sentiments of Cyrano’s heart. My one complaint is his Irish accent, it is incredulous to believe that Roxane does not recognise Cyrano’s voice when he is wooing her from beneath her garden balcony. Each time she addressed the bodiless voice believing it to be Christian, I wanted to cry out “It’s Cyrano, you stupid woman!”
Zubin Varla is miscast as Christian. He simply does not have the ‘heartthrob’ appeal to initially entice Roxane, and frankly he seems bored with the character! Also unimpressive is Claire Price as Roxane who fails to encapsulate the character’s sophistication. Though Anthony O’Donnell creates a splendid warm-hearted and comic Ragueneau, and Malcolm Storey does well as the malicious and hypocritical Count de Guiche.
The production fails to capture romantic chivalry that lies at the heart of Edmond Rostand’s play. Howard Davies in wishing to strip the play down to its essence has actually managed to strip the essence out of the play.
Production photos by Ivan Kyncl
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Boring production." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "This Cyrano is tactless and deeply inessential." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "There’s energy, and narrative momentum and, at times, fun." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "It just about works because the play is indestructible." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Disappointing production." ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Transcending the translation and the set, this Cyrano is the freshest and freest person on the stage." SUSAN ELKIN for THE STAGE says, "Fine production."