By Siavash Minoukadeh, Entertainment subeditor
The nineteenth-century Cyrano is vibrantly reimagined using physical comedy and a traditional theatrical style. An emotionally charged play that seeks to send a message of radical love, but ultimately falls short of its bold ambition.
Edmond Rostand’s unrepentantly romantic Cyrano de Bergerac has fallen out of favour over the last few decades. Its portrayals of pure love and sacrifice do indeed look a bit dated when compared to the grittier turn that drama has taken in recent years but this hasn’t deterred the Old Vic’s artistic director, Tom Morris, from valiantly trying to make a case for this nineteenth-century classic.
Working alongside his frequent collaborator, the designer Ti Green, Morris’ Cyrano bursts with life. It is clear that both director and designer understand the space in which they are working in intimately, the performers clamber through the dress circle, shout from the gallery and hop offstage into the pit. Equally, the set is lightly designed - favouring a few moveable structures and flown frames to an extensive fixed structure - and draws the Old Vic’s recently-restored facade into the action.
In many ways, I was reminded of Vaudeville and music hall shows with extensive audience interaction and simple, physical comedy. The cast bubble with energy and deliver Peter Oswald’s new translation with vigour. Written in verse, like Rostand’s original, and interspersed with bursts of music from an onstage piano, Morris has wisely chosen to throw naturalistic caution to the wind and instead adopt a more theatrical, stylised manner. In a strange way, looking back to these theatrical traditions, Cyrano give a freshness which sets it apart. Given how metatheatrical parts of the plot are, this stylisation works well and does not become too jarring.
However, the decision to adopt a more pantomime-esque style for much of the performance does lead to some tonal discrepancies. The final few scenes are far more significant and emotionally loaded than what has come before and though artfully-staged with the actors changing costumes - and characters - whilst gently backlit, these moments still feel discordant compared to the frivolity of the first act.
The performers, particularly Tristan Sturrock as Cyrano, perform both the farcical lines and emotionally loaded ones about love with admirable skill, but this is not enough to make up for the fact that whilst Cyrano’s dying speech about the sacrifices we make for love tugs at the heartstrings, it feels like it comes from a very different play to Cyrano’s earlier witty jousting with a corpulent aristocrat.
Oswald’s translation also struggles to set the tone properly. The insistence on using rhyme - he makes the case that verse lends itself to hope and joy more than mundanely naturalistic prose - means that the script at times feels like it is in service to the rhyme scheme and meter. Emotive letters are undermined by clunky rhymes that feel forced and distracts from the content of the script.
Morris has said that his reason for deciding to revive a play like Cyrano in a time like this is the hope of providing “new hope for our broken world”, which is an admirable aim. It is also a radical one. Yet this production of Cyrano ultimately feels rather conservative. Morris could have brought Rostand into our time by keeping its core message in a bold new form.
This production of Cyrano ultimately feels rather conservative
Instead he ties himself down with an adhesion to traditional forms, styles and writing which cannot deliver the message of radical love he wants to convey. Ultimately, Cyrano is a joyous night of entertainment but it fails to take the bold steps forward it would need to take in order to become anything more significant.
Featured image: Bristol Old Vic /
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