You can’t help but feel moved by the tragedy behind the story of unrequited love which is at the heart of Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac.
An adaptation by Anthony Burgess, never one to shy away from radical and original concepts, opened Royal & Derngate’sMade In Northampton season last night, and I’m sure he would have been delighted with the production.
But I was left unmoved and irritated by director Lorne Campbell’s decision to stage this most romantic of stories in a gymnasium with an ensemble screeching out their lines amid the odd press up and scramble up vertical bars.
Cyrano is a co-production between the R&D and Northern Stage with the latter stamping its conceptual ideas on the story.
Centre stage is Nigel Barrett’s wonderfully flawed hero, Cyrano.
He is a poet extraordinaire, every word uttered is lyrical and deeply romantic, and a masterly swordsman, the best in France.
But, as we all know, he was cursed with the ugliest and largest of noses.
Cyrano is deeply in love with his golden-haired cousin, Roxanne, (played with dramatic licence by raven-haired Cath Whitefield).
But she treats him like a cousin should, remembering their playful childhood romps, and confiding in him that she is smitten with a young aristo, Christian (Chris Jared).
Sadly Christian is all beauty and brawn with very little brain. Overcome with shyness he is incapable of engaging Roxanne in even the most simplest of conversations.
And so the grand deception is planned. Cyrano will wax lyrical in a flurry of love letters supposedly from Christian, and, while Roxanne falls for their author, a love-sick Bergerac will watch from afar.
If only the play had centred itself on the love triangle. Instead we have a two-hour first act (on the Royal’s hard and poorly padded seating) with an ensemble stacking square cubes of sponge (?), knocking them down again, resting on the gym’s bleachers and swapping into a variety of roles which distracted from the main story.
Cyrano is way overlong and too fussy to be engaging but the central performances are beautifully played.
Despite having to wear a huge prosthetic nose Barrett gives a surprisingly nuanced and heartfelt performance.
It isn’t all bragging and bravado from the French hero. Your heart goes out to him when he simply stands alone and his eyes are filled with yearning for what he believes is an unobtainable love.
Whitefield makes a joyous Roxanne who wants beauty and soul from a lover. Her smile lights up the stage. It’s no wonder both men find her utterly enchanting.
Cyrano plays on the Royal stage until April 25 before playing at Northern Stage April 29-May 16.