Wednesday, 17 January 2018
Cyrano | Oxford Playhouse | Tuesday, May 23
WHATEVER you do, don’t talk about Cyrano’s nose.
It may be a massive conk announcing his presence half an hour before he arrives, but he’s very sensitive about it — you might find yourself cleaved in two because he’s also a magnificent swordsman.
Swordsman has a coarser meaning as well, but it’s his skill with the sabre that’s meant here — his skill in the other department we hear never gets tested because of that nose.
Northern Broadsides’ Cyrano is a delight from beginning to end and the two and three-quarter hours passes quickly.
It’s a new translation, bringing the language up to date with some alarming but funny couplets and plenty of action, fighting, carousing, loving and fun.
It deserves to be seen by a far bigger audience than the barely one-third full Playhouse on opening night.
Cyrano is the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, a Gascon cadet of impeccable fighting skill and a matchless poet whose words alone can erase a woman’s resistance.
But he also has a very long nose — really, really long — so long that his “tears have dried before they reach the end of it”. This, he believes, rules him out of any long-term future with a woman, especially the beautiful Roxanne, whom he has adored since childhood.
It’s a cruel notion which has been adapted for stage and screen many times, but this production has a freshness about it.
We laugh both at and with Cyrano as he runs himself down. He is a noble warrior and would be a loyal lover if given the chance.
The play splits into two sections: a first half which is played as French farce with some moments bordering on hilarious, and a more serious but still funny second half when war comes.
Behind all the joking and the cynicism there is a deep morality rumbling along about beauty being skin deep and talent and devotion being far more important — but neither the original writer, Edmond Rostand, nor Northern Broadside’s adapter, Deborah McAndrew, are going to allow us to learn those lessons until we’ve had a lot of laughs and a few tears.
Key performances are Christian Edwards’s Cyrano and Sharon Singh’s Roxanne, who have us wishing for a resolution early on. Both are completely engaging in their roles.
The set is simple — a decorated cloth background which never tires despite remaining unchanged.
This really is a good show and is the sort of thing in this horrible week which might help restore some faith in ourselves.
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