Cyrano de Bergerac. By Edmond Rostand. Directed and adapted by Damien Ryan. Canberra Theatre Centre and Sport for Jove Theatre Company. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. Until July 1. Bookings 62752700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
C'est magnifique! Director Damien Ryan's adaptation of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac is nothing short of brilliant – vibrant, bursting with action, sparkling with wit, alive with passion and touching in its moving sentiment of love. Upon the stage, a superb company of players strut their stuff with panache, embracing Rostand's avowed pleasure in writing Cyrano, "happily and with love", while also fighting against the tendencies of the time, which infuriated and revolted him.
Ryan's adaptation spans the period just before World War I to the eve of another world war. The story of the heroic soldier poet Cyrano (Damien Ryan), a swashbuckling self-proclaimed free spirit with a protuberant nose who must conceal his true love for Roxanne (Lizzie Schebesta) by penning his romantic verses for handsome, young Christian (Scott Sheridan) is steeped in theatricality.
There is surprising and interactive use of the Playhouse auditorium, music hall artifice, melodrama, and realism. The production is epic in its scale. Set and costume designs by Anna Gardiner and Barry French transform the stage from the Comedie Francaise to the bakery of pastry chef Ragueneau (John Turnbull, to the flower bedecked home of Roxanne to the besieged French garrison and finally to the modest setting of the convent. The action of the transitions is seamless, sweeping the audience along on waves of laughter, moments of tension and perhaps the occasional tear.
Central to the play is the role of Cyrano de Bergerac, based loosely on the real Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a soldier and literary figure of the 17th century, who possessed a big nose, thought to be a sign of valour and honour among men.
Rostand's Cyrano is an exaggeration, but his character does embody the essence of panache. Director Ryan assumes the role from his original Cyrano, Yalin Ozucelik, who will be appearing in Canberra next month in 1984. Ryan's Cyrano is brilliant – gallant, intrepid and romantic, yet burdened with a self-conscious preoccupation with his nose and painful self-doubt. Ryan bestrides the stage like a colossus (his adaptation is liberally littered with snatches of Shakespearian quotes).
As Cyrano, Ryan is only momentarily off the stage during the three-hour performance. He engages in a thrilling duel, staged by assistant director Scott Witt. He boldly recounts his victory over 100 assailants. He is called upon to woo on behalf of the unromantic Christian. Finally, in a moment of sheer poignancy, Cyrano succumbs to his final revelation of love for Roxanne, exquisitely played by Schebesta. Ryan's Cyrano embodies the nobility of human value.
Sport for Jove's exciting production of this timeless late 19th-century classic speaks to an age uneasy with its identity, confronted by tensions and in search of truth. Sport for Jove have created a Cyrano de Bergerac for our time that speaks to us all.