BWW Review: CYRANO DE BERGERAC, NT Live
Martin Crimp's blisteringly raw version of Cyrano de Bergerac has been a great success so far during its run at The Playhouse Theatre in London's West End. After screening over 80 theatre productions in the last ten years, NT Live are now screening this theatrical masterpiece all over the world.
Edmond Rostand's 1897 play follows Cyrano de Bergerac; a soldier of brilliant verbal wit who feels intense insecurity about his large nose. Due to this he feels he can never declare his true feelings of love and desire for his distant cousin Roxane. Fellow soldier Christian catches Roxane's eye, but it quickly becomes clear to Cyrano that Christian is very good-looking, but also rather stupid. Cyrano decides to speak his love for Roxane through Christian, by penning exquisite love letters for Christian to send to her. When Christian dies in battle, Cyrano maintains the pretence, but when he himself is mortally wounded that Roxane discovers the tragic truth.
Director Jamie Lloyd and writer Martin Crimp have taken this story and radically reinvented it for the modern day. Rostand's original rhyming couplets are taken and reworked to dynamic speech, with more in common with rap or a particularly high-quality poetry slam. The language sounds and feels vibrant, current, relevant, witty and incredibly clever.
This is a production of many layers; from dark insecurity to sparkling wit and dynamic movement. BAFTA award winner and Olivier award nominee James McAvoy plays Cyrano and is utterly mesmerising to watch. If anything McAvoy has settled even further into the role over the past few months, showing the vulnerability and disquiet under the character's outward swagger and confidence. McAvoy's natural Glaswegian accent is enhanced by his delivery and wraps itself around the words beautifully.
We hear a wide range of accents and see an incredibly diverse cast onstage. The acting is also very strong, with Great Performances from a poised and self-assured Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Roxane, a cold and camply cutting Tom Edden as nemesis De Guiche and a delicately urban Eben Figueiredo as Christian.
The Playhouse Theatre is an intimate venue, seating on 780 people. Having seen the production twice at the theatre, there is a worry that it would lose the intensity in a screening. Lloyd's staging is unusual and challenging to reflect onscreen. The cast mainly speak out to the audience, with little face-to-face interaction. They also face the back of the stage a lot.
However, the screening direction by Tony Grech-Smith demonstrates his wide experience with multi-camera directing for NT Live; the nuance and detail is clear to see throughout. The mirror placed a certain points at the back of the stage during the production is zoomed into, showing the actors' reflections that are difficult to see in the theatre. This adds great intimacy and also interest.
There are also some very well-considered, almost filmic shots, such as placing both Cyrano and then Christian to the right of a shot, while the shadow of Roxane, projected from the middle of the stage, looms large in the rest of the screen.
The incredibly erotic and intensely powerful scene where Cyrano speaks for Christian directly to Roxane, maintains the electricity felt in the theatre. McAvoy looks directly into the camera, sitting on a plastic chair; there are no props, no stunts, no clever lighting tricks, just pure emotion. The camera positions for the screening must dictate that there are no cameras very close to the stage, as this is the shot that shakes very slightly and must have been shot with a long lens.
Soutra Gilmore's design is stark and stripped back; using mainly a large wooden box to house the actors, with additional the use of a black background and staircase. The one niggle would be a lack of many wide shots used. The almost-bleak emptiness of the stage is very much part of the striking look of the production and draws the audience attention to the actors. This sparseness is missed a little through a reliance on close up shots.
Overall, this is a mesmeric production, directly expertly for the big screen. It is utterly immersive, moving and a powerfully beautiful reminder of just how glorious and inventive language can be.
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner