The man, the legend, the nose. Northern Broadsides have a wonderful knack for taking older or (in the case of their previous production, When We Are Married) more obscure works and breathing life into them. Cyrano is no exception, with Deborah McAndrew’s new adaptation imbuing the classic Edmond Rostand drama with fresh humour and dialogue whilst taking careful measures to retain characteristics of the original work.
Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is a play written entirely in verse, which to the average theatregoer (and even to a few of the more fanatical ones) is a bit of a daunting prospect. McAndrew respects this legacy and her script follows a metre too, but here it’s a lot less uniform and flows so naturally the conceit often goes undetected. The introduction of a band helps keep this poetic quality feeling novel and fresh. The rhyming couplets never sound stale and are packed in with action-filled sequences. There’s plenty to marvel at here, and boy do we marvel.
Northern Broadsides would be selling themselves short without the broad Northern accents on display in Cyrano, and it feels so unexpectedly suited to the show. In hearing a member of the guard exclaim, “‘Ey, ah’m a Musketeer!” (apologies for the phonetics, Yorkshire friends) we’re immediately transported to the heart of Paris’ streets and taverns. These aren’t the prissy society players: we’re in with bakers, musicians, poets and pickpockets. It offers up a realism to the show which makes Christian Edwards’ Cyrano more sympathetic as a man of the people. Edwards is immediately charming and walks the line of a simultaneously braggadocious and cripplingly lovelorn hero, a switch we see constantly at play in his scenes with Sharon Singh’s equally amiable Roxane. Their chemistry is so compelling it’s enough to make you turn a blind eye to the fact that they’re cousins.
I can’t bring attention to everyone in the cast which is a shame because this is an incredibly strong ensemble. It’s brilliant to see how basic costume changes and a little careful character work can bring so many different voices into the fray. It’s not enough for Ragueneau to mention his starving writer friends – we see them burst into the scene in a flurry of overlong cardigans, snatching synonyms out of one another’s mouths. They’re in the scene for all of two minutes but completely imprint themselves on the audience’s mind.
Little touches like this make it clear that director Conrad Nelson has been keen to leave no moment dead. The play runs to just under 2 hours and 45 minutes (I bribed my other half with Creme Eggs, rendered redundant when he was enthralled after 10 minutes) but every minute is alive with action and emotion. Philip d’Orleans’ stage combat is something to write home about, and Francesca Mills adds acrobatic flair to several fight and chase sequences. The play is so visually arresting, it’s easy to miss the sucker-punch of emotional loss creeping up on the central love triangle between Cyrano, Roxane and the charming-if-dim Christian (Adam Barlow) until it’s too late. And then it has the audacity to do it again; it’s hard not to feel a lump in the throat watching Cyrano and Roxane’s final meeting, several years later.
I don’t want to sell Cyrano as a sad piece of drama, however. It’s been described by Northern Broadsides as a romantic comedy, which I feel doesn’t quite capture how much sheer enjoyment and emotion you could gain from this production. It’s literally thigh-slappingly funny in sequences which in their original form have inspired many comedians and cult films; in another moment tragedy creates a silence thick enough to blanket the raucous taverns from the show’s opening. It’s one of the most entertaining dramas you can catch at the moment, and catch it you should.
For more information on Cyrano at York Theatre Royal click here.