Cyrano De Bergerac
23rd February 2016
The concept of an all-female cast of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play is an exciting one. Cyrano, the warrior poet famed for his bravery and wit, has an unattractive large nose that (figuratively and literally) gets in the way of love. More than a flamboyant comedy, this is a story of romantic self-sacrifice and the curse of ugliness. As our modern world battles to expel ideals of the female aesthetic, I expected Glyn Maxwell’s adaptation to relay a woman’s struggle for love and beauty. Instead, the play fails to make a point of its female casting, resulting in a light-hearted cross-dressing up box of wit and war.
The plot follows Cyrano as he selflessly uses his literary skill to woo his beloved for another man: the handsome yet inarticulate solider, Christian. Kathryn Hunter is a magnificent lead, and manages to add gravitas to this breezy production. Having played Lear and Richard III, she can transcend gender with ease and masters Cyrano’s debonair masculinity. Nimble in body and speech, she owns the humour of the text with an impish spirit that unveils a childish vulnerability when it needs to. Ellie Kendrick is an endearing Christian, and her gormless expressions are thrown in hysterical contrast with Cyrano’s sharp wit and literary finesse. Sabrina Bartlett steps in as Roxane, the subject of the men’s love, but her elevated sense of importance and self-serving affection for Cyrano is only partially redeemed by Bartlett’s adolescent charm.
Anthony Lamble’s design is sparse, relying on four boxes to indicate scene changes. It reminds of a budget school production, which is further compounded by women dressed as men fighting each other with bamboo sticks. Director Russell Bolam draws on the playfulness of the show, with asides and scene introductions that offer a Brechtian flare. This is altogether a sweet introduction to Rostand, but the all-female casting is a gimmick that fails to shed new light. Thank goodness for Kathryn Hunter, whose compelling talent and strap-on nose is the strongest feature of this production.