Cyrano de Bergerac, image via Sport for Jove.
Sport For Jove’s wonderful production of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 French masterpiece Cyrano de Bergerac is thrilling, captivating and romantic.One of the great French classics, it is a sweeping epic full of passion and poetry, humour and love. Famous Cyranos include Jose Ferrer, Christopher Plummer, Derek Jacobi, Frank Langella and Kevin Kline. Some regard the Gerard Depardieu film version as definitive, Steve Martin updated Cyrano to a small town fire chief in the rom-com adaptation Roxanne. Landmark performances in Sydney include John Bell in the early 1980’s while Richard Roxburgh played the role in a Sydney Theatre Company version of the play in 2014. Sport For Jove originally produced this particular version as part of their outdoor 2013 season at Bella Vista.
Rostand’s play tells of the soldier-poet Cyrano de Bergerac, a brave and resolute man, full of passion and wit, who is both accomplished with words and a sword, but afraid of rejection by the woman he loves. Cyrano is in love with the beautiful intellectual Roxanne but will not woo her because of his enormous nose. However he helps Christian – who is handsome but not majorly intellectual – to woo Roxanne with passionate letters.Only on Cyrano’s deathbed does Roxanne discover that he has been the love of her life.This is a sparkling vibrant adaptation and translation, combining both prose and verse, which while faithful to Rostand’s original updates the action from 1640s Paris to the Belle Epoque and the start of World War I.
Under Ryan’s tremendous direction it is epic, flamboyant and action packed. There are some sections almost slapstick in style, others lyrical and poignant or chilling and tense. The set design by Anna Gardiner/Barry French combining the 2013 and 2017 productions is terrific.There are sliding panels and so on for various fluid scene changes, multiple uses of ladders and the famous wooing scene is enchantingly done (with allusions to Romeo and Juliet) – Roxanne’s house is covered in flowers and vines and it is lyrically lit. Everything revolves to become the cold shed for the war scenes and the last scene is bleak with a sparse tree and poignant falling leaves (and a giggling bevy of nuns).
There is much strong highly polished ensemble work (the ‘We are the Gascons’ military chant in Act 2 brings the house down for example) performed with gusto and great precision. Particular mention must be made of John Turnbull as Ragueneau, Cyrano’s pastry chef friend and James Lugton as de Guiche. The cast of 18 play roughly 50 characters.
Director Damien Ryan, who also created this translation, as Cyrano is tremendous. A powerful individual spirit he is part brash and swash-buckling, his wordiness hiding his aching heart. He is loyal, courageous and principled. A romantic, yet full of self loathing. The famous set piece where he pretends to have fallen from the moon (while Roxanne and Christian are exchanging their marriage vows) is tremendously done as is the recounting of his other various exploits.
As Roxanne, Lizzie Schebesta is exquisite, fiery and enchanting. Intellectually she is a match for Cyrano too. For the first half of the play the younger Roxanne is kittenish and joyous, teasing Cyrano at times, headstrong in her love for Christian. In the balcony scene she is ravishing in a blushing soft pink outfit. In the last section she is more restrained in sombre black but hiding her hidden fires.
Tall dark and handsome Christian (Scott Sheridan) is a brave soldier but tongue tied when faced with the woman he adores. Roxanne falls for his outer appearance and thinks she is also in love with his passionate inner-self (as provided by Cyrano’s letters and coaching).The scene where Christiane snaps, wanting Roxanne to love him for himself rather than the words that Cyrano puts into his mouth is quite moving.
This inspired production deftly balances the comedy the and the romance to capture our hearts.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Cyrano de Bergerac
By Sport for Jove
Adaptation & Direction : Damien Ryan
Designers : Anna Gardiner and Barry French
Stage Manager : Jem Page
Assistant Stage Manager : Katherine Holmes, Lauren Holmes
Lighting Designer : Daniel Barber
Sound Designer : David Stalley
Where: York Theatre, Seymour Centre. Playhouse Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre. IMB Theatre, Illawarra Performing Arts Centre.
Dates: June 15th – September 16th