‘Refreshingly incredible theatre - if one can afford it’
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
What: A modern adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s famous play by Martin Crimp
Where: The Playhouse Theatre, London.
Previews from 27th November 2019
Opening Night: 6th December 2019
Closed: 29th February 2020
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Cyrano: James McAvoy
Christian: Eben Christian
Roxanne: Anita Joy Uwajeh
For the rest of the cast please see: https://www.londontheatre.co.uk/show/cyrano-de-bergerac
The beginning of the play (and to some extent the whole play) had a very relaxed vibe. I almost felt like I was at a budgeted spoken-word event. Especially when it was clear to see microphones and cheap plastic chairs were to be used as part of the set. But it worked. The simplicity, the stripped-back staging and costume made the characters more relatable and approachable to a modern-day audience.
Because of this, all the story had to come from the shear talent of the writing and the actors’ abilities to make it come alive. It successfully shifted the attention solely onto the speech, it’s delivery and the beat of the play. It was great to be introduced to a cast with so many different varieties actors of different genders, size and race, who also used their uniqueness to make the story itself more varied and full of intrigue as the play went on.
The use of the mirror at the start of the play for Cyrano contrasted well with the use of the mirror at the end of the play when Roxanne looked into it too. They were looking at themselves, but seeing and examining two very different parts of their beings; as the play started off examining outer beauty, to later examining inner beauty, the condemning spotlight no longer fell on Cyrano, but on Roxanne instead. The character’s themselves were looking at what seemed to be an alternative reality; one where they were not themselves as they are in that moment. The vulnerability of the two characters was very much emphasised through this simple choice of direction and staging.
At times, it felt like Roxanne was preaching something she couldn’t personally follow herself, but from speaking to others who also watched the play, we could all see parts of Roxanne within us… She was the prime example of those of us who want to lead the way to change the world for the better or to set the right example, but not truly seeing what is happening right before our eyes.
I always believe that no play is better than its script, no matter how good the acting. If the base on which it is built on is not solid, then the rest will only be OK at best. Luckily for this adaptation, the script was marvellous. Martin Crimp successfully created a relatable, modern story, without losing the magic of the original play by Edmond Rostand. Through word of mouth, I had heard that the rap used might be ‘full-on’, however, my reservations were unfounded as I found it to be clear concise and not overbearing at all.
The very realistic and human views on love and beauty was breath-taking. The phrase ‘move words. That’s all.’ was drawn on the blank wooden wall at the back of the stage during the first half of the play. It was etched out letter by letter using elegant calligraphy as the story unfurled in front of us. This simple statement highlighted the simplicity of how Roxanne fell in love with the movement and enamoured construction of Cyrano’s words.
James McAvoy’s performance was intoxicating. He successfully drew the audience in, which allowed us to empathise with Cyrano and really see the point of view Cyrano at any time was trying to convey. I was particularly moved by his profound declaration of love for Roxanne, whose active listening was superb. Christino’s comedy timing added to this scene by providing a light contrast to the seriousness of the rest of the scene.
The unison of the chorus work was also impeccable. It was both visually and aurally exciting to witness their strong addition to the scene. The chorus had clearly worked hard to develop a natural connection to deliver such an in sync performance. I would like to highlight how much of a joy it was to witness this, as I often see chorus work done to a sub-par level with very little focus and preparation. Well done cast!
The only thing I could say was not in the production’s favour was the extortionate ticket prices. As I go to the theatre often, I tend to ‘sit up with the gods’ whenever I do go, to make use of the cheaper option available. Whilst my experience of the show was certainly not deteriorated from the location of my seat, I must confess that a £47 seat for the Upper Circle made me feel uneasy.
Theatre is meant to be for all and if we are to progress in the arts, then good theatre, such as this, should be available to all. Since this production was created in such a matter to be inclusive in their casting and in their artistic choices by incorporating modern rap and rhythm, often associated with urban culture, it should be accessible for all, particularly those who have an aspiration to work in the arts, no matter their background. I think it is important to note that this version of the play would also be a lot more engaging than the original script to an audience who would not traditionally read or watch the play in its original format.
I understand and somewhat encourage having more expensive stalls seats to widen the theatre experience and to cover the upkeep of theatre building costs etc, but the lack of cheaper seats, particularly in the performance I went to see, was not acceptable. I really think charging £50 for near enough back seat Upper Circle tickets is not OK. However, the standard bought to the stage was exceptionally high. As this is a well-known story and the chosen set was minimal, this production almost couldn’t afford to be anything less than fantastic, especially considering the ticket prices.
So, in short, the acting was incredible, the set made it strangely relatable, the writing was more than acceptable, but the price was a little extortionate. Once life has found its normality again, I am looking forward to watching another one of Jamie Lloyd’s adaptations of a classic play and see how it compares in quality, theme and how it resonates with the audience. Hopefully, it will be accessible for drama school students to see and immerse themselves in what good theatre should look like.
Verdict: Excellent (A+)
Stars: 4.5 Stars