Dylan Brewerton-Harper discusses the modern retelling of Rostand’s tale.
Martin Crimp and Jamie Lloyd’s fantastic, Olivier award-winning adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s timeless Cyrano de Bergerac has returned and touched down in Glasgow for a mere nine days, after dazzling London last month before heading to New York for April and May. The show, spearheaded by the gruff and bombastic performance of James McAvoy as Cyrano, came with a fiery and irresistible energy that was eagerly lapped up by a captivated and (almost) sold-out crowd at the Theatre Royal.
Before the lights went down we were treated to songs by Stormzy, Little Simz, The Streets and others to prepare us for the poetic masterclass that was about to come our way. This modern retelling flew out the traps with bravado, introducing us to this world of rhymes that all characters, big and small, occupy and traverse – just as Edmund Rostand intended with his 1897 original. As McAvoy sits with his back turned to the audience looking straight into a tall, deforming mirror, the supporting cast looks out at us, pretending to make comments about people in the audience “waiting” for the play to begin themselves. It invites the audience in, we relax, and we laugh – the first of many. It is a very funny retelling, and the audience is receptive throughout.
The wheels of the show are greased by its slick combination of spoken word, poetry, rap and beatbox which generates and sustains an excitement that carries until lights up. Rostand wrote the original all in verse, and so this latest version both honours the original and adapts it for a modern audience all too familiar with the power and reach of rap and hip-hop. One could even go as far as to say that Cyrano is the perfect adaptable piece for the current age – an age where rap has become the universal music – and that Rostand’s original tale of love and lust amongst the carnage of war is deeply applicable as we look at the world around us. Perhaps that is why generation after generation have taken to Rostand’s play.
“The wheels of the show are greased by its slick combination of spoken word, poetry, rap and beatbox which generates and sustains an excitement that carries until lights up…”
Not only does the show’s smooth verse draw us in, but the physical performances of the cast do also. Cyrano and Valvert’s duel whilst the former composes poetry within the first ten minutes is meticulously choreographed as well as extremely funny and visually captivating. It is this aspect of this version that has understandably received plaudits. Crimp and Lloyd have wedded a dark, gruff overarching atmosphere with a considerable amount of comic moments, many of them laugh-out-loud. Tom Edden’s performance as the principal antagonist and pantomime villain De Guiche is particularly funny, constantly warring with Cyrano and his right-hand man, Le Bret (played by Adam Best), whilst attempting to court the apple of seemingly everyone’s eye, Roxanne – wonderfully portrayed by Evelyn Miller.
The stage design is plain to the point of being totally bare – our eyes are drawn only to the trials and tribulations of the eighteen-strong cast. A particular highlight is what can only be described as a slick and stylishly choreographed game of theatrical musical chairs, whereby Cyrano, De Guiche, Roxanne and Christian (played by Eben Figueiredo) jump and rotate around as they conversate with each other – the three men all vying for the love and attention of Roxanne, with different methods of persuasion in each of their arsenals. No thrills, no lavish backdrops or props – just four plastic chairs and some cracking physical comedy.
This latest run of The Jamie Lloyd Company’s version is dedicated to the memory of Seun Shote, one of the original cast members who tragically passed away in March 2021 at the age of 47. A wonderful and moving tribute is paid to him in the show’s programme by Associate Artist of the Company, Zawe Ashton who remembers his ability to “make the audience disappear” when on stage with him. He wasn’t acting, but instead was simply “happening” – a rare talent who has clearly left a remarkable impact on the people he worked with, none more so than those in the Company.
Rostand’s play is timeless precisely because it asks big questions about the human condition and our modern societies. Words versus action, love and war, art and society. Only last year did we see a new film adaptation with Peter Dinklage as the title character and almost yearly theatre productions around the world. Although only making a brief stopover in our city, it is fair to say that this latest theatrical version of Rostand’s classic has gone down a treat – especially considering hometown boy McAvoy trained just over the road at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His homecoming was welcomed by the people of Glasgow, and it’s not hard to see why.