Playhouse Theatre, London – until 29 February 2020
The last time Jamie Lloyd directed James McAvoy in a play, he had him riding around the stage on a unicycle in nothing but his pants. In Cyrano de Bergerac, their latest collaboration, the trousers stay on (sorry), instead it is deep, raw emotional pain which is laid bare for all to see.
It is a tragic tale of unrequited love. Cyrano has gained acclaim and respect as a skilled soldier but is also beloved as a clever wordsmith baiting the authorities with his biting wit and writing beautiful romantic verse with equal aplomb.
Convinced that the woman he loves – Roxane (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) – will never see past his looks he accelerates his own heartache by helping her and her lover Christian (Eben Figueiredo), a good looking cadet.
Lloyd’s modus operandi is to take a fresh approach to classic plays, adding a contemporary spin while drawing out the deeper emotions and nuances and Cyrano is no exception.
The stage is plain and simple with just a mirror or sometimes a couple of chairs. Cyrano is reborn as a performance poet. While the actors all have head mics, there are two traditional microphones – a reminder of the ‘performance’, one of several nods to it in the production.
The original play was written in verse and Martin Crimp’s free adaptation also utilises verse. And, as much as I’ve disliked his work in the past, this is beautifully and cleverly written, lyrical and poetic yet modern, blending rap and an urban edge.
At times Lloyd has the characters in conversation but speaking directly to the audience – another nod to ‘performance’. There is no physical interaction, or fellow performer to riff off, neither is there much movement, rather it is stripped back, it is all in their faces and voices.
It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the skill of the actors, in fact, it is done so well that these segments flow naturally within the piece, leaving only the emotional impact.
What you get is a more intimate and affecting performance, the actors’ faces are exposed directly to the audience often in the most vulnerable and emotionally intense moments.
You can see the joy, the hope, the despair, the agony, the glisten of tears forming in the eyes, a solitary wet track down a cheek.
Lloyd has also chosen not to give Cyrano his trademark nose but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there looming large over the entire story.
Feel the effect rather than see
You can see it in your mind’s eye or rather feel the effect it has on Cyrano’s self-esteem.
I once saw James McAvoy walk on stage and perform just one speech from Julius Caesar.
His performance was at times quiet and restrained at others explosive and bursting with energy, so captivating he had the audience laughing, gasping and crying in just the few minutes it took to deliver the speech.
That intensity of performance is magnified to fill more than two and a half hours in Cyrano and it took my breath away.
It was one of those rare nights at the theatre when you feel like you are watching something really special.
The beauty and rawness of it pull you in and envelopes you and the performances combined with the tragedy of the story haunted me for days.
I already can’t wait to see Lloyd and McAvoy do next, I just hope it isn’t a four-year wait.
Cyrano de Bergerac is 2 hours and 55 minutes including an interval and I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
It’s at the Playhouse Theatre until 29 February.
Other Jamie Lloyd/James McAvoy collaborations I’ve seen:
Review: James McAvoy is certifiably good in The Ruling Classes.
James McAvoy’s Macbeth first thoughts
James McAvoy’s Macbeth second thoughts
When James McAvoy delivered that speech from Julius Caesar.
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