REVIEW: Cyrano de Bergerac @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (30.4.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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One has to look hard to find the soaring ambition of staging Cyrano de Bergerac. A text of Parisian préciosité ordinarily reserved for proscenium-arch stages and primetime, Lorne Campbell’s revival of Edmund Rostand’s epic play, of sabres and saccharinity, is thrust into modernity as Campbell rediscovers and rejoices in all the spirited couplets of Anthony Burgess’ translation.

Jean Chan’s set, a rather crumbling gymnasium with raked seats, old crash-mats and fencing dummies, is at first a strange canvass with which to paint a world of environments. But in fact the entire show is a work-out: physically, intellectually and emotionally exhausting, as Campbell asks his audience to fall in love with or even resist the text and its characters. At times, it is less poetry-as-seduction but poetry-as-combat, a romancing of – and duel with – its observers, which saps the life from a production spanning three hours.

Almost all of this rests on the broad shoulders of Nigel Barrett’s Cyrano, a heroic duellist and poet, longing for the love of Roxane (Cath Whitefield), yet cursed with an abnormally large nose. He uses the brilliantly embattled Christian (Chris Jared) as his attractive surrogate through which to deliver his prose in an attempt to woo Roxane. Cyrano’s planet-sized ego and fragility in equal measure haul us in, by temptation or by force, whose compelling arrogance is only orbited by the supporting ensemble (fine performances by Northern Stage’s NORTH cohort, though they are hardly given much chance to truly shine).

Instead, we rely on Whitefield and Barrett to summon the heartache of impossible love, channelled through Burgess’ translation the ancient tragedies that cast long shadows over the great Romantic works of Europe. It’s drawn out, particularly the final act which subsides like a slowly spinning wheel of fortune, and thus is always working flat out to retain its audience’s attention. It is more virile than violent, with more protraction than panache, yet all the while openly boisterous and flirtatious.

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