Cyrano de Bergerac

Edmond Rostand, translated and adapted by Anthony Burgess
A Chichester Festival Theatre Production
Chichester Festival Theatre
(2009)

Production photo

Could Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac ever have envisaged that almost four hundred years after his death the most eminent actors would be putting on a false nose to portray his life on stage and screen (a story admittedly somewhat embellished by the author)? The resounding success of the play on the opening night – at the Theatre de la Port-St.-Martin in 1897 - took even the author by surprise. Before the curtain rose he was apologising to his leading man - “I beg your forgiveness my friend. Pardon me for having involved you in such a disastrous adventure”

The greatest surprise to me was how much the opening scene reminded me of Ché Walker’s The Frontline. One set in an elegant 17th Century Parisian theatre, the other outside a late night London Tube station, the venues and periods could not have been more dissimilar yet, human nature being what it is, comparable characters seemed present in both plays and the stage in both cases is awash with individuals all going about their business. Here a flower girl and a fruit seller are plying their wares, while a Fagin-style pickpocket teaches two young boys how to steal. There is a drunkard, a doorkeeper, a poet, a Musketeer, a tragic actor – about forty characters all on and around the stage at once, and it’s not long before a fight breaks out, or, in the case of this play, a duel!

From the moment he arrives among the swarming throng Joseph Fiennes as Cyrano commands the stage and continues to do so for the rest of the three hour long performance, whether in swash-buckling fencing mode, or selflessly offering his eloquence and wit to the handsome but inarticulate Baron Christian Neuvillette wooing his adored Roxanne for another. With his wit and eloquence and Christian’s striking good looks, between them they will make one perfect lover, but pathos and heartbreak are evident in Fiennes’s exceptional performance which brings all the audience’s sympathes to the fore, while still being able to laugh at the comical elements of the situation, the funniest being the balcony scene with Roxanne drinking in the words of love and Christian trying hard to say them credibly.

Alice Eve is Roxanne, pert and pretty, but not just an ornamental beauty, Her face shines with youthful joyous confidence, and she shows us a girl who is not above a few feminine wiles to get her way, but sensible enough when she gets through enemy lines to bring the besieged garrison not only a coach full of food – but the cook too.

Robert Jones’s sets dissolve magically one into another from the opulence of a Parisian theatre to a vast and well-stocked bakery presided over by pastrycook Ragueneau (Paul Grunert), followed by the essential balcony scene. Act two brings the siege of Arras and a barricaded stockade where Tom Mitchell and John Leonard provide more smoke, gunshots and cannon firing than seem strictly necessary, although very effective, and the last scene takes place in a convent garden where a dying Cyrano finds that he is truly loved for himself. As the autumn leaves fall Roxanne’s cry of “Cyrano, what have they done to you?” has such depth of feeling that more than one tear was shed around me.

Steven Edis provides some exceptionally lovely music, and Trevor Nunn’s epic production (although a little long) is superbly presented and staged, but the night truly belongs to Fiennes whose pretty-boy romantic image is not totally lost behind the nose, although as Cyrano his heartbreak and loneliness are enough to break your own heart.

Not due to tour or transfer and only running until 30th May.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor