It’s the old story. Boy loves girl, girl loves different boy – who also loves her, first boy realising he can’t have girl helps second boy, everyone except first boy is happy. If you don’t recognise it yet, then I am of course talking about Cyrano de Bergerac which is currently showing at the Southwark Playhouse.
It is 1640 and in the theatre of the Hôtel Burgundy they are preparing for a show. Amongst the audience is the beautiful Roxane (Sabrina Bartlett) with her guardian the Count De Guiche (Tamzin Griffin). Also in the audience and not necessarily enjoying the performance is the large nosed – and by large, we mean enormous – Gascon Cadet, Cyrano de Bergerac (Kathryn Hunter) who, possibly to make up for his exaggerated protuberance, is a poet with a wonderful turn of phrase. Now Cyrano is in love with Roxane but so too is another member of the Gascon Cadet’s the handsome Christian de Neuvillette, and it appears she is in love with him. It all gets a bit messy from now on as Cyrano, believing his physical appearance will not win the fair maiden offers to help Christian in his wooing of Roxanne. And all this is done despite a war going on with the Spanish, the plotting of the Count De Guiche to marry Roxanne off to one of his friends – and possible have his way with her first – and all the people out for revenge on Cyrano after he has abused and humiliated them.
This production of Cyrano de Bergerac is unusual in quite a few ways. Firstly it is an all-female cast, using only 7 actresses and secondly, this version is an adaptation by Glyn Maxwell of the original 1897 story by Edmond Rostand. Unfortunately, for me, the show didn’t really work. Although the actors did a pretty good job of delivering the script, I think the adaptation leaves a lot to be desired. For example, I wasn’t really sure – and indeed am still not – about my feelings for Cyrano himself. Was he meant to be a figure of fun strutting around the stage, or was he meant to be a tragic figure living a romance he could never have through another’s life? I did find it really confusing if I’m honest. Now, I’ve never seen the play or various films before so really needed to be shown more of an idea of Cyrano’s personality and although Kathryn Hunter played the part really well, I still wasn’t that aware of who Cyrano really was at the end.
I also have to say that I’m not really sure why the production went for an all-female cast. I was sort of expecting there was going to be some form of statement about women in the 17th century, the futility of war, etc but in reality, this was simply a group of talented actresses playing men. Yes, it may have done something to help the gender balance within theatre but I’m not sure it added anything to the play itself. On the whole the setting worked okay and the costumes were flexible enough to allow a wide range of characters to be portrayed but, and here I am being a bit of a stickler, someone needs to ensure that all the Cadets wear their sash the same way to reinforce the idea that they are in uniform and something needs to be done about the plume in Cyrano’s hat which really did seem to have a mind of its own at times.
This has all been a bit negative so far so let’s examine things I did like. Aside from the handing out of madeleines at the beginning (who can resist a free cake?) I did think that certain scenes worked well, particularly the scene in the theatre – where we were treated to a real taste of the verbal skill of Cyrano – and the garden/balcony scene which, thanks to some good work by Director Russell Bolam, brought out some nice comedy and also some lovely words which again gave a taster of Cyrano’s skills.
Overall then, as a newbie to the story, I had issues with this production of Cyrano de Bergerac, my companion, who had read the original text in French was distinctly unimpressed, although she did concede there were some good parts. I think ultimately, the cast made a good effort with a rather poor adaptation that seemed to miss out the heart of the story. For me, I’m glad I saw it as now, I finally have an excuse to watch the Gérard Depardieu version.
Review by Terry Eastham
Swordsman, Philosopher, Poet – Cyrano de Bergerac is all these things, but none of them makes him happy. What he longs for is the love of the beautiful Roxane. But his problem is as plain as the nose on his face. Surely he is too ugly to be loved?
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This new staging of Edmond Rostand’s classic sees one of theatre’s greatest roles played by one of our most exciting and innovative stage actors – Olivier award-winner Kathryn Hunter. As Cyrano, Hunter leads an all-female cast that includes Ellie Kendrick (Game of Thrones, Misfits) and Sabrina Bartlett (Poldark) in Glyn Maxwell’s witty and heartbreaking adaptation.
Lauren Brown and Chloe Courtney present Cyrano de Bergerac
Adapted by Glyn Maxwell from the play by Edmond Rostand
18th February to 19th March 2016