Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Cyrano

Edmond Rostand adapted by Deborah McAndrew
Northern Broadsides and New Vic Theatre
The Lowry, Salford
18 April 2017 to 22 April 2017

At the heart of Edmond Rostand ‘s classic Cyrano de Bergerac is a love triangle between the title character, his cousin Roxane whom he secretly loves, and the handsome but bland Christian, whose good looks attract Roxane. Adaptor Deborah McAndrew defies convention and, instead of making the title character a grizzled world-weary warrior for whom unrequited love is just another in a list of disappointments, creates a young version of the warrior/poet. Actually, this is not the most contentious feature of Northern Broadsides’s Cyrano.

The adaptation follows the plot of the original. Cyrano de Bergerac (Christian Edwards) is a renowned swordsman, poet, playwright, physician and so on. He is, however, not physically attractive, having a massive nose. Although devastated to learn that his secret love, Roxane (Sharon Singh), fancies the hunky but dim Christian (Adam Barlow), Cyrano’s heroic nature compels him to use his wit to convince Roxane that the object of her passion is cleverer than he seems and so deserves her love. 

Some patrons might see Cyrano de Bergerac as one of the greatest love stories in drama. Director Conrad Nelson (who also composed the music) sees the play as a romantic comedy with music and songs and, at times, very broad humour.  The opening 30 minutes or so has a bawdy tone, with double entendres and visual gags such as a pickpocket darting from under a lady’s skirt, to the extent that it resembles ‘Carry On Cyrano’. 

The comedic tone distorts the structure of the play. Scenes that one might have thought relatively minor become exaggerated. The sequence in which Cyrano distracts a love rival by pretending to have fallen from the moon becomes a full musical number. It is something of a relief in the final third that the adaptation takes a more reflective tone, if only because it gives Andy Cryer the chance to develop De Guiche from a broad villain to a more mature character. 

Roxane is not an easy character to enact – she worships intelligence but is very easily deceived.  Sharon Singh, therefore, draws out the restless and impulsive aspects of Roxane – she does, after all, sneak through the battlefields to meet her lover. Although cast as a young Cyrano, Christian Edwards brings such a melancholic air to the role that the character actually seems older than his years. Edwards brings a gravity that is absent from much of the production. What is missing, however, is any sense of danger: you never really feel that Cyrano is capable of killing. The ‘duel in verse’ scene, in which Cyrano cruelly toys with an opponent prior to dispatching him, is played for laughs, complete with an oompah band playing throughout.    

Cyrano gives modern audiences the chance to see a version of a classic that is easily accessible and very funny. An audience expecting a more conventional approach might find the irreverence does not catch the essential romance of the play.    

Reviewer: David Cunningham

Comments

Comment by Robert Beale

I agree with almost everything David says - except 'very funny'. I found the first half tedious in the extreme - a bit like a modernisation of a medieval miracle play where the knockabout stuff is there to brighten up an otherwise dull script, and a bit like a school effort where there's too much searching for laughs that rarely come. The whole show is much too long and the set - into which a lot of imaginative thought has been put, at least as a background to one musical number - is pretty minimally used. It does get better as it goes on, and the musical content takes over to create a Les Mis like atmosphere of courage and devotion. Not sure why Roxane had to be Scottish.

Comment by Paul Genty

I was looking forward to this since tour reviews have been good and it's such a strong tale, but must confess fairly wide disappointment. In going back to the original, Deborah McAndrew seems to have put back, as Bob says above, all the tedious bits usually, and rightly, left out. I too was bored stiff by much of the first half, and thought too that the tone was wrong.

Yes it does get better after the interval, but the evening, at two hours and 50 minutes, needs to lose at least half an hour - and decide whether it is a comedy or a drama. I'm not sure Rostand intended it to be funny, though there is a certain charm in certain elements of the story.

Comment by David Upton

I caught this earlier in the run and, as colleagues attest, it's not just Cyrano's nose that is overlong!

Husband and wife team, director and composer Conrad Nelson and adaptor Deborah McAndrew, have evidently had a lot of fun re-working Rostand’s romantic comedy. And Northern Broadsides stand doggedly by their determination to represent regional voices on stage, although - not for the first time - it can lead to a flattening out of the dialogue into a monotone.

In a play that’s about the love of language, as much as the language of love, that too often obscures some of McAndrew’s witty and occasionally heart-rending verse. She should certainly have taken the opportunity to trim some of the story’s epic proportions. Compensations come from some assured performances and the overall ensemble effect achieved by a highly-talented cast of 13 delivering three times as many characters.