In a different version of the Edmond Rostand (1868-1918) play Cyrano de Bergerac, Carol Clark suggests in a long introductory note to her published text that it may be useful for the title character at a certain point in the play to adopt a Scottish accent. “For British readers or hearers, it [that is, the Scots accent] is associated with bravery and stubbornness (the Scottish regiments are famous in the history and present service of the British army.” In this version by Martin Crimp, a change of accent also occurs, without any suggestions as to what it should be changed to. But it just so happens that the Cyrano in this production happens to be played by James McAvoy, whose natural Glasgow voice rings out across the auditorium with passion at times and poignancy at others.
Christian (Eben Gigueiredo) is in love with Roxane (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), and feelings are mutual. As ever with this famed play, there’s an interesting portrayal of the pulling power of physical attractiveness contrasted with the pulling power of poetic words – Christian has the former but not the latter, while Cyrano has the latter without, apparently, the former. (James McAvoy? Ugly? I disagree, especially when the production doesn’t have him wearing a mask and/or prosthetics of any kind.)
This in itself, however, is a further exploration of the power of words: if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then perhaps the opposite of beauty is as well. Elements of the production are more than a little jarring: the show opens with a sign reading ‘1640’ – not so much the number of people in attendance but the year in which the show is set. The costumes (Soutra Gilmour) and the beatboxing (Vaneeka Dadhria) suggest otherwise. Both the set (or, more precisely, the lack thereof) and the use of handheld microphones – and then only selectively – make for a production that almost feels out of place in the West End. Rostand’s original script contains outlines for what would have been a very highly elaborate set indeed. This production dispenses with it, and with a General Election on people’s minds at the time of writing, it appears to be, fortunately or unfortunately, deliberately or coincidentally, demonstrative of austerity measures by the dozen.
The play has been given a modern veneer, without doubt – Roxane is far from a pushover, for instance. While there is some indication that traditional roles for women are still valued by certain characters, this Roxane is intellectually minded. In a later scene it becomes clear she is able to fully grasp the kind of books that Cyrano presents her with. Leila Ragueneau (Michele Austin) runs poetry classes but she knows that when she’s reached the last page, it’s time to close the book.
There are generous dosages of strong language throughout the evening, and there is so much rap going on that one wonders if this show is trying to emulate the musical Hamilton. Having characters standing in front of microphones on their stands and talking into them left me feeling as though I was listening to a play on the radio instead of experiencing live theatre. That said, it was a highly engaging experience, and the rather long 2 hours 50 minutes running time felt a lot less than that.
McAvoy’s Cyrano has exquisite comic timing, and yet his verbalised expressions of love are utterly convincing. Levels of engagement are kept up by having likeable (or at least pitiable) members of what becomes a love triangle. Proceedings have (dare I say it?) panache, not least because the minimalist set practically forces the audience to pay more attention to the text. Different but absorbing, it’s a good production to see for those who want to try something fresh and radical.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Fierce with a pen and notorious in combat, Cyrano almost has it all – if only he could win the heart of his true love. There’s just one big problem: he has a nose as huge as his heart. Will a society engulfed by narcissism get the better of De Bergerac – or can his mastery of language set Roxane’s world alight?
Joining the Golden Globe and Olivier Award nominated James McAvoy (Cyrano de Bergerac) to complete the cast are Michele Austin (Ragueneau), Adam Best (Le Bret), Sam Black (Armand/Priest), Nari Blair-Mangat (Valvert), Philip Cairns (Referee), Tom Edden (De Guiche), Eben Figueiredo (Christian), Chris Fung (Usher), Adrian Der Gregorian (Montfleury), Carla Harrison-Hodge (Denise/Medic), Seun Shote (Theatre Owner), Kiruna Stamell (Marie-Louise), Nima Taleghani (Ligniere), and Anita-Joy Uwajeh (Roxane) with Vaneeka Dadhria, Mika Johnson and Brinsley Terence.
The Jamie Lloyd Company presents
Cyrano de Bergerac
Freely adapted by Martin Crimp
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Design: Soutra Gilmour; Lighting Design: Jon Clark; Sound and Composition: Ben and Max Ringham
Fight Direction by Kate Waters; Casting by Stuart Burt CDG
Listings CYRANO DE BERGERAC
Northumberland Avenue, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DE
27 November 2019 – 29 February 2020