BRISTOL OLD VIC
RUNNING TIME – 3 HOURS – 1 INTERVAL
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 18 OCTOBER 2019
Edmond Rostand’s late 19th Century work ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ is one of those rare pieces of literature which are handled with kid gloves. It’s a challenge in so many ways and it is fraught with many hurdles and possible pitfalls. There is the translation to use – unless you are performing in the original – finding an actor who can carry this monster of a role, the length of the piece – it is a hefty piece of theatre – and the nose, of course; ah yes, the nose!
Peter Oswald has taken the original and crafted a literate, witty and wonderfully poetic translation, marred by the occasional expletive and peculiar anachronistic reference – Michel Barnier? Maltesers? – unnecessary and distinctly odd. It is at it’s best when in the poetry of Cyrano himself – it soars and affects and is quite beautiful.
It is worth noting that the acclaimed film of the story starring Gerard Depardieu, required over 2000 actors – Tom Morris is, here, working with just seven. What a fun time they have – all play multiple roles with the exception of Tristan Sturrock who just sticks with the lead. There is much amusement to be had with the actors moving on and off stage with speed, bringing with them a new character each time. It is a clever organisation of the roles, but, somehow, dissipates the impact of some of the more significant ones – we are transfixed by the actors more often than the characters themselves and our emotional connection is diluted.
Music plays an important part along with the poetry and the melodies of Adrian Sutton are well handled on stage by some of the actors – not least Guy Hughes who pops up sheepishly to play the piano from time to time as well as performing as one of the seven. The designs of Ti Green are very pleasing on the eye – suggestions of costumes are enough for the character transitions and the framework sets are very effective – the glorious theatre backdrop is a joy to behold. Excellent lighting and sound design add to the drama of the battle scenes which add a more serious note to the whole proceedings.
There is some tremendous work from the cast; all throw themselves into this production – it’s an epic, and they do not stop. From the wonderfully fruity-voiced Felix Hayes as the wicked de Guiche (among others) to the lovely camp from Miltos Yerolemou as an usherette – when you have such a small cast, they all have to be at the top of their game and they are. Sara Powell is an incredibly strong and quite ballsy as Roxane; the focus of love for both Cyrano and the young cadet, Christian. Shimmering above the whole proceedings is a beautifully mannered Cyrano from Sturrock – the role is such a tightrope walk and he pulls it off magnificently – a triumphant characterisation – playing to an audience with twinkle in the eye and a heart broken into a thousand pieces.
Tom Morris directs with verve, though at 1 hour and 45 minutes for the first half the audience has their patience tried – it appears to be relentless. The story-telling is not easy to get into – Rostand’s fault here – but when it does, we often lurch from comedy into pantomime – house song, direct audience interaction and the topical references as mentioned – it jars. Maybe some of the ‘business’ could have been curtailed to move the story on a little quicker.
At the heart this is a love story – impossible to achieve love – beauty and the beast without a neat conclusion and through Tristan Sturrock and Sara Powell we are never in doubt about this.
Something just doesn’t work here, and I struggle to put my finger on it – the excellence of many parts of the production do not add up to a successful whole. I was amused, but didn’t laugh. I was moved, but only slightly. I was impressed but not as much as I wanted to be.
Oh, and the nose? It’s as obvious as….
DE GUICHE – FELIX HAYES
LE BRET – GUY HUGHES
CARBON – GILES KING
CHRISTIAN – PATRYCJA KUJAWSKA
ROXANE – SARA POWELL
CYRANO – TRISTAN STURROCK
RAGUNEAU – MILTOS YEROLEMOU
WRITER – EDMOND ROSTAND
TRANSLATOR – PETER OSWALD
DIRECTOR – TOM MORRIS
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – TI GREEN
LIGHTING DESIGN – RICHARD HOWELL
COMPOSER – ADRIAN SUTTON