Hot on the heels of Sport for Jove’s epic and excellent production of ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ only late last year, it was a bold move by STC to program it into their 2014 season. But with Richard Roxburgh and Ryan Corr (later ‘unavailable’ and replaced by Chris Ryan), it felt like it was a risk that should pay off and indeed, they were right.
The problems with this play aren’t in this production as much as they are inherent in the play itself, even with the much needed edits. Spoiler alert: let’s go to the ending. Why do we feel disappointed by it? Is it because we want a happy ending (not in a sleazy massage kind of way but one that rewards duty and love) or is it that even at the end, when Cyrano could confess his feelings for Roxanne, he looks outward and not inward and we feel cheated for her as much as for him? Or is it that the death scene feels far too long and stilted? Whatever the case, it feels like something is missing in ‘Cyrano’.
But what isn’t missing is the sense of fun imbued throughout this manly adventure of courage, convictions, loyalty and love. Director Andrew Upton has given us an active and playful rendition of Rostand’s play (tweaked by Upton and Marion Potts in adaptation), complete with an Australian flavour of language and phrase.
Roxburgh (Cyrano) is equal parts mischievous saviour, romantic hero and intellectual elitist. He is filled with the crippling self-doubts that we are all in danger of feeding and yet his steadfast love for Roxane (Eryn Jean Norvill), make him both admirable and frustrating. Cyrano as a character will not allow himself to tread softly upon the world and instead kicks at it as much as he can because he can never succumb to the vulnerability of love and possible rejection and it hardens him. It is no wonder that he makes enemies from the start and Roxburgh makes us love Cyrano as well as want to lecture him, as does his best friend, Le Bret (Yalin Ozucelik- who played Cyrano in the Sport for Jove production).
The cast is well-assembled and there are plenty of moments to shine. Alan Dukes as Montfleury ham-acting and swinging across the stage, Dale March’s sword-play arrogance as Valvert, Julia Zemiro’s comic timing as Duenna, Chris Ryan’s Christian, the dumbstruck lover , David Whitney as poet Ragueneau and the Ode to Almond Tarts, Norvill as word-obsessed Roxane or Bruce Spence as drunkard Ligniere all offered a great support to Roxburgh and stepped up to match him in energy and intensity. But Josh McConville brought a little something more than that as De Guiche in finding the commedia, starting like an Il Capitano, transitioning into a courageous soldier and leader and then finishing in stark realism. It shows McConville has great range and formidable skill.
Alice Babidge has created a story book set that allows us to close the curtain on each act like a grandiose play until eventually, we are stripped of the trappings of the stage, the leaves have fallen on our autumn, the space is bare and black and we wait for the inevitable denouement. Babidge’s costumes are just as grand, contrasting the scruffy rogue of Cyrano with the pomposity of the elite, making it even easier for us to identify with the common man who will give his pay for the sake of art but like a version of the Robin Hood story, never look to take advantage of those below him.
Damien Cooper’s lights are almost a character in this play too. The images created in the shafts of directed light that heighten tension, space and the emotions of the play are a visual feast of ideas. As the stage segue ways from war into fourteen years later, a trick of leaves with a complete transition of lights, leaving Roxane on stage, front and centre, is a powerful metaphor for the woman who is left in the light, a tiny shaft of light, whilst the rest of her world has gone dark.
Cyrano is our underdog and perhaps that’s why we want more from its ending. But the production does the best it can with the stakes it’s been given. Sometimes it’s a little clunky and sometimes deliciously naughty, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ delivers a message about superficiality and surprisingly, it is most damning of the presumption of it more than the reality.
STC’s ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ is a fine production of this play and is sure to keep its audience happy.