cyrano at bristol old vic…

Moira and I went to the Old Vic last night to see Edmond Rostand’s late 19thcentury play “Cyrano de Bergerac” (or just ”Cyrano” as the Old Vic refers to it). Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-55) was, amongst other things a French novelist, playwright and duelist… He was also seen as a bit of a dreamer, a failure and a fool to fortune (but you probably knew all that?).
Rostand’s account is, inevitably, a fictitious, gallant and glorious version of the person Cyrano was in real life.
The play (directed by Tom Morris, translated by Peter Oswald and designed by Ti Green) is about love, about uncertainty, about unfulfilled desires and about pretence. It’s about the relationship between Roxane and Christian (‘an imaginative and lively woman shackled to the wrong man’ as the programme notes put it); Roxane demands that ‘life rises to the level of poetry’ – something Christian can’t give her, but which Cyrano can (despite his other ‘deficiencies’).
In short, life’s difficult!

Tristan Sturrock (reference: ‘Poldark’ – which I’ve never watched) plays Cyrano - complete with impressive nose - and is excellent. He is supported by a first-rate, multi-talented cast (including the wonderful Felix Hayes)(me? biased?) who play a whole variety of roles (and sexes), including nuns, bakers, usherettes, soldiers, politicians and musicians. But, frankly, the entire play is about the Cyrano character – it seemed that no one else really counts as far as the playwright is concerned.
The entire play is performed in verse and although this might help to set the original tone and form set by Rostand, I found it somewhat off-putting and ‘clunky’. Given the quality of the company, I would have much preferred to have seen a ‘devised’ version of the play (retaining the poetry and verse where appropriate, but bringing out the ‘playfulness’ of the other performers). I also felt that the play was a little too long – the first half lasted an hour and a half and the battle scene in the second half dragged on somewhat, in my view.
Although I don’t think the play matched the wonderful, elevated standards of the Old Vic productions I’ve seen over the past two or three years, it was another very enjoyable, high quality evening.
According to the Old Vic’s programme notes, we are reminded that Rostand wrote his play at a time when “attempts to build a European political union had collapsed” and that he did so with “poetry as strong as a tractor, capable of hauling the hearts of his audience towards a sky of new dreams”!
As director Tom Morris wrote (again, in the programme notes): “Whether this leaves us all inspired with new hope for our broken world, or just provides an evening’s relief from its relentless stupidity, not even Rostand could predict”.