It’s easy to understand why Edmond Rostand’s singular masterpiece has been translated and transformed around the planet in so many languages, formats and versions.
The hero, Cyrano De Bergerac, is—in many ways—the poster boy for the different amongst us. Physically, his larger-than-laugh-sized nose makes him an easy target of anyone who doesn’t thank their lucky stars that an overt deformity (to most) didn’t crop up in their gene pool. But the even greater challenge for this master of the blade, is dealing with his superior talent with words: a sense of poetic writing that ought to win him a legion of female admirers from amongst those who prefer wit and wisdom to just hunky looks.
In the world première of Kate Hennig’s brand-new translation/adaptation of the 1897 original, prose has been chosen over poetry—no doubt appealing to a less-sophisticated 21st century audience—even if it somewhat cheapens the urtext, and seldom playing on rhymes (no matter how many feet!).
Tossing in a few present-day expressions (e.g., “as if”) gets the hoped-for laughs, but adds nothing to the overall affect.
Director Chris Abraham is a lucky man indeed to have what almost feels like a Stratford/Shaw coproduction in terms of the first-rate cast he has assembled and the always excellent fight direction from John Stead (the early-on duel scene is a marvel of action, humour and storytelling: “That finally I hit”, indeed!).
In the title role, Tom Rooney delivers one of the finest portrayals of his considerable career. Everyone in the room felt his anguish in unrequited love, shared his love of language and quietly cheered on his sacrifices for the affection he has truly earned, but bestowed on a much better-looking (to many) man.
Playing Roxane, Deborah Hay takes stage and readily commands it with customary wide-ranging emotions and the savvy knack of knowing when to pull back in order for others around her to soar. The final pas de deux with the expiring Cyrano is unforgettable.
Patrick Galligan redefines haughtiness as De Guiche yet manages to find just the right tone when stepping down from his lofty pedestal and feast with his troops prior to a near-hopeless battle.
With no thoughts of his own, gratefully employing Cyrano as his surrogate wordsmith, Jeff Irving’s Christian hits all of the right notes in his awkwardness, innate beauty and devotion to duty. Sharry Flett makes for an all-seeing, worldly companion to Roxane with a sense of timing that many others can only hope to approach.
Abraham generally lets his cast go with their flow, but—marvellously aided and abetted by Julie Fox’s brilliantly conceived sets ideally lit by Kimberly Purtell—has fashioned a production that is bound to be a hit either in Niagara-on-the-Lake or Stratford.
Everybody nose that! JWR