Edmond de Bergerac, Alexis Michalik, translated by Jeremy Sams
Birmingham Rep Theatre: The House
Runs: 2h 45m, one interval, till 30 March 2019
Bham Rep BO: 0121 236 4455
Review: Rod Dungate, 25 March 2019
Edmond de Bergerac is both a bold choice for Birmingham Rep and quite an odd one. Roxana Silbert, the outgoing Articistic Director of the Rep, has endeavoured to widen and sharpen its programming. So to programme this French play is bold. On the other hand it tells the story of the development and writing of a great French classic, Cyrano de Bergerac, and it is questionable how interesting this is to a British audience. In addition, there is a major structural fault with the play which makes it difficult to engage with. And this is a big problem.
The first half tells of the struggles of Edmond, the playwright-poet. His engagement with the aging Sarah Bernhardt, aging, bankrupt actors, their sturggles with the Comedie Francaise. There are a large number of short scenes, a great deal of cutting of action and even more rushing about. While Roxana Silbert, who directs, and her team have worked hard on pace and energy, the number and shortness of scenes makes it impossible to empathise with the central characters – Edmond, his frind Leo and spouces and lovers.
At the interval point we are wondering what it is all about and why we should care about these people.
The second half is quite different in tone. Scenes are longer and we are drawn into the charactrs’ personal troubles, the play is more about them and less about the play. And we discover we do care. At this point, too, the play reveals what it is about – the importance of believing in, and following, your own (artistic) talents even if others do not believe in you. So the play is important. But it feels too late.
Silbert directs with skill and understanding, concentrating on pace while also drawing out some strong performances. Freddie Fox is excellent as Edmond, the struggling writer, driving it all along with energy and commitment. There are a host of witty and broadly drawn roles from a talented company, including Josie Lawrence, who is hardly given chance to spread her considerable comedic wings.
It all amounts to an interesting, but not toally satisfying piece.
(Full credits will follow.)