Aside from the works of Shakespeare, few if any plays can have inspired as many spin-offs as Edmond Rostand’s heroic romance Cyrano de Bergerac: the Leslie Bricusse musical, the Steve Martin film, and last year’s Canadian movie Hashtag Roxy to mention just a handful.
Ahead of the upcoming West End production starring James McAvoy, Bristol Old Vic premieres this challenging new verse adaptation by Peter Oswald, former playwright in residence at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Artistic director Tom Morris helms an attractive but uneven production. He’s assembled a largely local cast, headed by Bristol Old Vic associate artist Tristan Sturrock. Its strong suit is the early commedia dell’arte approach, with audience participation reaching pantomime levels, while designer Ti Green’s later Siege of Arras battle scene stunningly mirrors the over-the-top horrors of the First World War.
The power of poetry at the heart of this love story is only occasionally signalled, however, in Sturrock’s mischievous, and in the beginning swaggering, performance. The production also falls short of the melancholy that accompanies Cyrano’s troubled progress into old age. As the unrequited love of his life, Sara Powell is impressively robust as Roxane, but Patrycja Kujawska, as Cyrano’s tongue-tied fellow cadet Christian, is only rarely at ease as the benefactor of the elegant love letters to Roxane that Cyrano is too embarrassed to deliver himself.
One of the successes of the evening, though, is the cast’s playing of Adrian Sutton’s gentle score on a variety of onstage instruments – this proves particularly effective in the bittersweet finale.