Review: Cyrano de Bergerac, Playhouse Theatre
- Credit: Archant
James McAvoy gives a performance of blazing intensity in a radical updating of the French tragi-comedy about a rapier wit with a huge nose
Jamie Lloyd's radical reinvention of a rather hoary tragi-comedy about a big-nosed 17th century Guardsman with a passion for poetry is a complete revelation.
Not only does Martin Crimp translate Edmond Rostand's romanticised verbal fencing into a streetsmart performance poetry slam, but it features a mesmerising performance of blazing intensity from X-Men star James McAvoy.
On Soutra Gilmour's stark box set the modern dress cast take to mics, and beatboxing, to tell the story of swaggering swordsman Cyrano with a rapier wit but chronic self-esteem, who woos the woman he loves in proxy for tongue-tied but tasty Christian.
Microphones keep cropping up in these stripped-back classics, used here with superlative acting and script, a potentially alienating, encumbrance serves to intensify the emotional focus. But in less optimum circumstances I could definitely see too much of it.
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That McAvoy has bags of charisma and doesn't sport a large proboscis is beside the point. Cyrano has loved his beautiful cousin Roxane since childhood, but toxic masculine shame and fear of rejection have stayed his advances.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh's sassy feminist Roxane makes a soul-baring journey from idealistic teen demanding her lover is both hot and intellectual, to anger and sadness at the deception played upon her - has she loved two men, or none?
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Although played as a game of musical plastic chairs, the scene where McAvoy slips from his native Glawegian into Christian's multicultural London patois is first funny, then burningly erotic. The starving army at the siege of Arras are also minimally but poignantly realised.
Eben Figueiredo brings a touching confused honesty to the usually dim Christian, the homoerotic implications of one man courting for another aren't lost on him, and when Roxane tells him she loves his soul not his face - through Cyrano's letters - the realisation of his hollow marriage is utterly devastating.
And then there is McAvoy, who embodies Cyrano's condradictions, fiercely brave, true to his moral code, yet a tad self-indulgent in his love martyrdom. An intellectual snob who rails against the commercialisation of art.
But as the pain and passion cross his features it's impossible to look away.
Lloyd helms a diverse and hugely talented ensemble to tell a compelling story of body image, and the beauty and deceptions of language and love.