Edmond Rostard’s Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the great tragic love stories. It is a tale of a swaggering and heroically brave young Frenchman, blighted by having “the most colossal conk in Christendom,” who is head-over-heels in love but unable to find the courage to reveal his feelings.
Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, most of us know the story of Cyrano through it being replayed as an unforgettable Morecambe & Wise sketch, Steve Martin’s screen comedy or Gerard Depardieu’s exuberant performance on screen. For me it’s the most tenuous of famous links, Sting’s iconic song from my youth, Roxane.
Now there’s a fresh swordsman and poet, doffing his panache and waxing lyrical about love, loss and valour, with the Northern Broadsides and New Vic Theatre’s lively (though, strangely, dimly lit) co-production of Cyrano, which opened at Watford Palace Theatre last night.
This beautifully poetic, funny and unashamedly romantic drama, which has occasional music woven into its scenes, has been skilfully adapted by playwright Deborah McAndrew.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to take a play, written entirely in verse, and adapt it to include the colloquialisms and dialect of a Yorkshire-based theatre company that is proud of its roots (you won’t hear any namby-pamby posh southern speak here).
In some ways hearing the cast speak in their native northern accents aids the rhyming of the lines, allows a few liberties to be taken, and makes some scenes even funnier.
Les Mis and Oliver! star Christian Edwards is the actor cast as Cyrano and he gets the balance just right, giving a finely nuanced performance as a carouser, hell-raiser, playwright and soldier who (typically French) is unembarrassed about pouring his feelings into love poetry.
Largely set in 17th century Paris, the fearless Cyrano de Bergerac is renowned as a master swordsman who challenges anyone who mentions, or looks, at his huge hooter. He may be filled with bravado but he is acutely aware that the thing on the front of his face marks him as ugly and unlovable.
But he is in love with the beautiful Roxane, described in the text as his cousin and he is forced to hide his feelings for her.
When she sets eyes on a new recruit to the ranks, the pretty but dim Christian (an engaging Adam Barlow) she falls madly in love and urges Cyrano to keep him safe from harm. Roxane also pleads for love letters from the handsome young soldier.
Unable to write or blurt out an intelligent and well constructed sentence, he calls on Cyrano for help in writing billet-doux to the besotted girl. And so begins a love-triangle that tests to the extreme the meaning of true love.
As usual there is a top ensemble working alongside Edwards. NB regular Andy Cryer plays with aplomb the devious – and married – De Guiche who has designs on the fair Roxane and while company newcomer, Francesca Mills sparkles as a cheeky pickpocket, an excitable nun and an apprentice baker with a soft spot for her boss.
Northern Broadsides celebrates its 25th anniversary with this touring production and they are fiercely proud and committed to producing drama presented in their own voices (rather than drama school-taught received pronunciation).
So a special mention for Cheshire-born actor Paul Barnhill, playing the poetry-loving pâtissier, Ragueneau, whose rich and fruity accent was a delight to listen to. Its clarity and his enunciation meant that every word of his frequently funny dialogue was heard – and he delivered a cracking turn as the henpecked pastry chef to the Parisian poets.
Cyrano continues at Watford Palace Theatre until Saturday.
Remaining tour dates
March 14-25, Liverpool Playhouse March 28 – April 1, The Dukes, Lancaster April 4-8, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough April 11-15, York Theatre Royal April 18-22, The Lowry, Salford Quays April 25-29, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham May 2-6, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds May 9-13, The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax May 16-20, Derby Theatre May 23-27, Oxford Playhouse
Beautifully poetic, unashamedly romantic, Deborah McAndrew creates a wonderfully rich and lyrical adaptation of Rostand’s Cyrano for Northern Broadsides & New Vic Theatre.