Striving for Perfection: Review of STC’s Cyrano de Bergerac
Originally written in verse (and then translated by Marion Potts), Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) has been adapted by Andrew Upton into straighter prose version which has largely retained its original lyricism. Despite Upton’s little modernisms, justice has been done to this famous piece.
Poet, playwright and romantic; the greatest duelist and bravest soldier that ever lived: Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac seems to have it all, and he does it all with his trademark wit and panache. But he is accursed, having been born with an abnormally large nose. Behind his joyful antics and boundless confidence lies a deep insecurity that no woman could ever love his disfigured form. And so when a young and handsome, somewhat vapid soldier, Christian, falls in love with the object of Cyrano’s affection, Roxane, he agrees to tutor the hopeless man in the ways of love. With the combination of Christian’s good looks and Cyrano’s dazzling rhetoric, the pair manage to capture Roxane’s heart. Such a deception can only lead to complications and tragedy.
Ideals are at the core of this production. Cyrano is a true romantic at heart and will not settle for anything less. It is for this reason that he agrees to help Christian – the promise and allure of creating the world’s perfect lover. Yet this longing for perfection finds its way into all aspects of Cyrano’s life. He refuses to let anyone tamper with his work and will never kowtow to have it staged. An unwavering commitment to ideals leads Cyrano into strife. He is largely unrecognized as a writer and his belief in his disfigurement truly prevents him from finding happiness. Even on the battlefield he insults De Guiche who discarded the scarf that identifies him as an officer because it makes him an easy target. Cyrano claims that he would wear it willingly; its symbolism is enough, though to wear it would drastically increase his risk of dying. Here we reach the point of the play. The only real choice we have in life is the ability to choose the source of our misery. Later in the play De Guiche confesses that each compromise he made weighs on his soul. It reminds him of the man he dreamt to be, but never became. Cyrano, clinging to every ideal he holds, is no better off. The world is not made of ideals and as Cyrano discovers, the world will eventually crush anyone unwilling to compromise. It’s a catch-22.
The marvellous Richard Roxburgh plays our title role with impressive timing and pathos. When he’s good, he’s very, very good. Yet we find ourselves waiting in anticipation for Cyrano’s panache to kick into a higher gear, and it never quite does. This does not detract from the deep sadness that Roxburgh portrays so well, but it does deny that extreme juxtaposition that pushes Cyrano from good to great.
Josh McConville plays the deliciously vain De Guiche, Count and Colonel to the French Army. McConville is a master of comedy in his own right, though his greatest strength lies in his catlike ability to slink between characterisations. McConville is almost unrecognisable as the older De Guiche. Formerly filled with naïve courage and confidence he has now faded, leaving an old man with only regret.
Eryn Jean Norvill plays the beautiful Roxane, displaying good temperament and comic restraint in performance. The role is somewhat thankless next to the pizazz of Cyrano but Norvill takes it in her stride and manages with gusto. She too has a penchant for character, best seen in her sharp contrast from a flighty, romantic youth to a worn and grieving elderly woman.
Chris Ryan plays the handsome but rather dense Christian, Roxane’s love interest. The role seems straightforward on paper but it becomes all too apparent that Ryan has worked tirelessly to shape the performance, displaying great awareness of character. Christian’s ‘stupidity’ is constantly teetering between subtle and overplayed, exactly where Ryan wants it.
Amongst the supporting characters is the delightful Julia Zemiro playing Roxane’s Nurse, though the role is treated as a bit of a cameo within which Zemiro can do her shtick. Thankfully, this works. David Whitney is endearing and energetic as Raguenaeu the baker and dinner (breakfast?) poet. And fresh from his stint as Cyrano in the Sport for Jove production, Yalin Ozucelik plays Cyrano’s right hand man Le Bret with generosity and grace.
Upton offers a fairly straight staging of the play. There are a couple of visually compelling moments, such as the sleeping soldiers on a misty battlefield, or raining autumnal leaves under a red wash as Roxanne comes to terms with her loss. But these moments seem to have the fingerprints of the production’s associate director, Kip Williams, on them.
This is a funny, tragic and thought-provoking play featuring one of Australia’s finest actors in his element. Cyrano de Bergerac is playing with the Sydney Theatre Company until the 20th of December. For more information see: