EDMOND Rostand’s 1897 verse play Cyrano de Bergerac draws its inspiration from the true story of a Gascon hero and poet, and its swashbuckling romance continues to excite and delight audiences in theatres and cinemas across the world. It is currently one of the flavours of the year, with new several new stage productions and various films just released or in the pipeline. Just the ticket for another time when Europe is fraught with conflict and uncertainty.
It’s hard to think any will better the thrills, invention and pathos of Tom Morris’s new production at Bristol Old Vic, on until 16th November and playing over Valentine’s Day at next year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival.
Seven actors play 19 parts in this helter-skelter dash through Cyrano de Bergerac’s life in the fields of love and war. This new version is freely translated by Peter Oswald, adding contemporary twists to the dialogue, but keeping enough of the poetry to stay true to Rostand. Cleverly bookended by scenes in a convent, it introduces our hero after a bit of plainchant by a parade of (sometimes bearded) nuns, making his weekly visit to the 18-year home of his beloved “cousin”, Roxane.
Tristan Sturrock was always going to be the perfect casting for this hot blooded, romantic and charismatic role, and he exceeds expectations, bringing a yearning poignancy to this hot-tempered hero. No question why his troops adored him as he famously took on 100 men who threatened a friend and braved enemy lines to make sure his epistles of love – written on behalf of the handsome dullard placed under his protection by the woman he loved – reached their destination in spite of the wars.
Imaginatively designed by Ti Green with a spectacular sound design by Dan Jones and original music by Adrian Sutton and the company, the influences of both Commedia and Le Coq are strong, as the director further explores his use of the beautiful Old Vic theatre. There’s a bit of audience participation and the now customary neck-craning to find where the actors might turn up in the auditorium, all adding to the involvement and excitement.
Sara Powell is a spirited and passionate Roxanne, with Patrycja Kujaawska as the brainlessly handsome Christian, Felix Hayes and his unforgettable voice bringing some final dignity to the pompously overbearing De Guiche and Miltos Yerolemou as chef Raguneau and a loveable usherette, Kneehigh stalwart Giles King and musician-actor Guy Hughes – all in multiple roles.
Thrillingly funny and achingly sad, it’s an unmissable telling of a famous story whose message is the importance of telling the truth when it matters, and not leaving it too late.
Footnote: for stf and Bristol Old Vic. Both theatres followed their announcement of the October/November shows with posters which have now become the front pages of the play programmes – and both seem to set themselves against the productions they are advertising. The image for Much Ado is of an unidentified woman in fatigues, set against a red-washed background of violent partying and riot police under some urban overpass.
The Cyrano image is of the famous Gascon warrior and lover (but not of Tristan Sturrock, who has been hailed as the show’s star since the first announcement) looking knowingly over the rose that hides his most famous feature, with white drawing lines around him.