Cyrano de Bergerac – slam poetry meets the 15th century ★★★★★

Despite having to tread the paths of several previous adaptations of Cyrano de Bergerac, Jamie Lloyd’s interpretation is exemplary. We witnessed Lloyd’s stellar talent earlier this year with Betrayal, starring Tom Hiddleston; he now takes on a new challenge with the artistically focused James McAvoy. 

Written in 1897, the play follows the famed 15th-century playwright Cyrano de Bergerac. Cyrano believes that his desire to capture the affections of his childhood friend Roxanne are in vain, as his infamously large nose renders him ugly. Instead, he ghost-writes as Christian, a  young soldier, to capture her heart through romantic poetry and prose. 

This is the first production that doesn’t use prosthetics to portray Cyrano’s large nose: it is instead left to the audience’s imagination. The minimalist staging complements a diverse, talented cast that radiates charisma. This modern interpretation relies on a stand-alone microphone to ingeniously trade Alexandrine verse for slam poetry. It’s unexpected, radical, and surprisingly brilliant. While the microphones serve to accentuate the power of the syllables and consonants, they are also the only props in sight — they’re even occasionally deployed as skipping ropes. 

Through this approach, there is more emphasis placed on the power of the language to enchant and deceive. James McAvoy’s Scottish accent highlights the intricacy of the rhyming couplets throughout the play, focusing the audience on a vulnerable and emotive protagonist torn between his self-consciousness and his profound love for Roxanne. 

You can’t help but feel that the play is divided into two sections. The first section is incredibly witty, while the second is more emotionally charged.  Though his style does takes a while to get accustomed to, Lloyd strikes the perfect balance between the two and, coupled with McAvoy’s urgent performance, this modern adaptation has an exhilarating poignancy.

The play oozes originality and innovation from every scene: a particular highlight is the ‘seduction by letter’ scene, which is cleverly staged using only four orange chairs. This is an extremely promising start to Jamie Lloyd’s production at the Playhouse, which also includes Jessica Chastain’s West End debut in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. 

Grab tickets for Cyrano de Bergerac at the Playhouse Theatre until 29th February 2020. 

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