Paul T Davies reviews Edmond Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac presented by the Jamie Lloyd Company at the Playhouse Theatre, London.
Cyrano De Bergerac
Playhouse Theatre, London.
6 December 2019
Beginning a year-long residency at the Playhouse Theatre, the Jamie Lloyd Company begins with a vivid reimagining of Edmond Rostand’s classic Cyrano Be Bergerac. Adapted into many genres, including the famous film starring Steve Martin, Roxanne, the plot is the unrequited love Cyrano has for Roxanne, complicated by his big nose rendering him “ugly”, and further exasperated when she falls in love with Christian. She values words more than looks, so Cyrano, a poet as well as a soldier, puts romantic words into Christian’s mouth and into letters, masquerading as Christian, written when they are away at war. As this is Jamie Lloyd, following the superb Pinter at the Pinter season and his production of Evita at Regent’s Open-air Theatre this year, we know to expect a radical reworking of the text. What I didn’t expect was a beatbox version, with the production stripped-down, foregrounding Crimp’s excellent text. It’s radical, surprising and brilliant.
The stripped-down approach extends to the set and costumes, and this Cyrano has no prosthetic nose. In James McAvoy I found this initially a little disconcerting, he is the handsome man we think we know from screen. But as the play progresses and the style begins to be established, he captures perfectly the complexity of the part, the arrogance, the bravado, leading to the tenderness and the romantic, he crackles with energy. Anita Joy Uwajeh is an excellent Roxanne, feisty and strong, rebelling against her expected place n society. (Although the production is still set in 1640, the contemporary angle means Crimp and the company can challenge the male gaze. In fact, it the male undressed body we look upon.) Eben Figueiredo has a confident swagger as Christian, giving way to his vulnerability in love, and Michelle Austin is superb as Queen of the Verse and cafe owner Leila, providing excellent narration and observation. As the obstacle to true love, Tom Edden is excellent as De Guiche, trying to manipulate Roxanne into marriage, and hilarious when he attempts a rap of his own!
Every minute of this production sizzles with invention, every scene is different to the one before. The seduction by letter scene, played out on just four orange plastic chairs, is hilarious, and the second half is deeply moving. The first half is a little overlong, the Meta theatre having the cast urging for the company to get on with the play reflects the slight frustration I had that it takes a while to get going, it could lose some running time. Purists may also baulk against the adaptation, but for a play whose emphasis is on poetry and love, it is correct that the real star is Crimp’s words, pinging around the auditorium and keeping us hushed when we need to be. The spoken word is keeping the verse play alive, and this is definitely a production to see and savour!