Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – until 3 November 2018
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Visually and verbally intoxicating, Cyrano de Bergerac at the Lyceum is a riotous, joyous expression of the human spirit.
The co-production with the Citizens Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland, helmed by Citizens artistic director Dominic Hill, brings Edwin Morgan’s translation of Cyrano back to the stage. Morgan was a poet whose humanity was matched only by his boundless relish of language and he could combine the lyrical and touching with the raucously humorous to tremendous effect.
It does not necessarily follow that such a one should be equally adept at the more collaborative, less ego-driven art of translation. However, the versions Morgan made of a raft of international writers are a testament to his equally astounding abilities in that area – and his version of Rostand’s 1897 play is one of the best.
The story of the swordsman and poet Cyrano, who is forced to woo Roxane, the object of his own affections, on behalf of the handsome but dim Christian, has been adapted countless times, but the central love triangle – and Cyrano’s huge nose – are always present.
Written in a Scots verse by turns rawly demotic and beautifully tender, drawing largely on Glasgow but unafraid to range further afield, Morgan’s version is a wonderful thing, fantastically expressive and instantly accessible.
The barriers to its revival since the celebrated Communicado staging in the 1990s may come from some trepidation about a Scottish version of an 1897 play about a 17th century Frenchman, but are surely more due to its length (even with judicious pruning, it reaches three hours). The massive cast list means that almost all of the 14-strong company are doubling frantically.
Brian Ferguson and company. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
None of this matters in the right hands – which is undoubtedly the case here, in a triumphantly exuberant celebration of love, life and death. Brian Ferguson’s central performance is a tour de force, with his Cyrano brilliantly egotistical yet self-denying, both a lover and a fighter. His first entrance suggests a righteously enraged braggart, but he subsequently embodies a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic spectrum of emotion. His final speech, bloodied but unbumfled, is a fitting ending to this.
Jessica Hardwick’s Roxane is a similarly impressive creation, compellingly funny yet deceptively nuanced. Keith Fleming’s scheming fop de Guiche and Scott Mackie’s Christian both also provide humorous and essentially human characterisations.
Hill’s magnificent marshalling of the company means that the three hours fly by. The troupe of actors and musicians includes such excellent performers as Gabriel Quigley, Nalini Chetty and Isobel McArthur, and are uniformly impressive.
There is the odd moment in the staging that is less than ideal – a production that is obviously designed to be performed on a thrust stage does not necessarily always translate to the Lyceum’s traditional proscenium. There are times when there are things happening – particularly at the back of the stage – that are not obvious to everyone.
an eye-popping collision of styles
Nevertheless, this is far outweighed by the things that are gloriously right. Pam Hogg’s costumes are an eye-popping collision of styles, and Lizzie Powell’s lighting, while at times approaching the harsh, is stunningly atmospheric. Tom Piper’s set is a combination of stripped-back theatrical innards and versatile furniture – notably a vertiginous stepladder – that can serve as a bakery or a battlefield.
There is one moment – in the celebrated scene where Cyrano woos Roxane on Christian’s behalf – where Hardwick, wearing what looks like a meringue, is perched atop the ladder while Ferguson, drunk on his own poetry and her reaction to it, is lying below. It is impossible not to feel as caught up as they do, in a shot of pure theatre.
This is only one of several such examples in a production that fizzes with intensity. Never neatly packaged, and at times decidedly messy, it nevertheless exudes an anarchic joy in life and poetry that is utterly irresistible.
Running time 3 hours including one interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Friday 12 October – Saturday 3 November 2018
Evenings Tues – Sat at 7.30 pm. Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.00 pm.
Information and tickets: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/cyrano-de-bergerac.
George Drennan – Credit Mihaela Bodlovic