Cyrano de Bergerac at Harold Pinter Theatre
Words are power. With clever use, the speaker can seduce, persuade, inspire, defeat, hurt – ink on paper can touch the heart and move the soul, while distracting from what might offend the eyes. That’s Cyrano de Bergerac’s armour against the world. Martin Crimp’s adaptation of the play by Edmond Rostand is nothing short of sensational, a theatrical masterpiece and a striking testament to the mighty force of language. Performed by a sterling cast, this glorious show is a must-see.
Cyrano (James McAvoy) is a cadet very much inclined to using brutal force against censors and antagonists. A master of poetry, he is deeply in love with his cousin, Roxane (Evelyn Miller), but he cannot confess his affection because of his ugly nose, which he believes would repulse anyone. The young lady is infatuated with the handsome Christian (Eben Figueiredo). She begins a relationship with him by correspondence as the army keeps them apart, making a request to her cousin to defend the love of her life while the two serve in the same company. The men come to an agreement too: Cyrano will help Christian write exquisite love letters. But unfortunate events get in the way.
Written in rhyming couplets, the play has a strong pace – slightly dilated in the second act – with narration woven with rap and beatboxing (special applause for this goes to beatboxer Vaneeka Dadhria). There’s a satisfying fluidity in the juxtaposition of different styles, with transitions between sequences cleverly made. An example of this is a scene where the four actors swiftly change chair seats – now facing the audience, now turning their backs – while their dialogues intercross.
The sparse stage is a versatile setting for ensemble sections and more intimate moments, with the artists seamlessly moving as one in both. McAvoy’s unquestionably superb performance reaches its apex in the love monologue, when Cyrano swaps places with Christian behind a listening Roxane. The atmosphere in the stalls is extremely tense, the full attention of the theatre on every single word palpable: the hypnotic pouring of each sentence is a breathtakingly sensual feat.
The themes of physical acceptance, belonging to a community (the theatre troupe or the army) and the incommunicability of feelings resonate loudly with the modern public. They are ideas that run through the very spine of the script, but they are not overemphasised, rather dropped in the right doses to trickle self-reflection.
Jamie Lloyd directs an unforgettable Cyrano de Bergerac, breaking boundaries between genres in a piece that is vigorous in its delivery and majestic in its emotions.
Cyrano de Bergerac is at Harold Pinter Theatre from 3rd February until 12th March 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.