BWW Review: EDMOND DE BERGERAC, Richmond Theatre
Edmond Rostand is a broke poet who's going through a seemingly endless writer's block. His plays are critical flops, his investors don't have any more patience nor money to waste on him, and his wife needs him to provide for their family. In an attempt to help his actor friend Léo charm young Jeanne, he starts penning letters under his name, getting more and more involved in the pretense and kicking off the idea for his 1897 masterpiece Cyrano de Bergerac.
Alexis Michalik's play Edmond de Bergerac (originally titled Edmond) enjoyed massive success in France and ran for more than 700 performances. Now, after an initial run at Birmingham Rep, director Roxana Silbert has taken in to Richmond Theatre for a limited engagement with Freddie Fox as the title character. Translated by Jeremy Sams with apt humour, zest, and a great amount of boldness, the show is a ludicrously amusing tribute to theatre and its silliness.
Part farce, part drama, part comedy, it presents a compelling thematic concoction and delivers it with plenty of cheek. Michalik's latest piece is, in essence, a spin on Shakespeare in Love where the main strength doesn't lie in the storyline per se but in its characters and comedic timing.
The (sometimes surprisingly crude but mostly sophisticated and delicious) gags are impeccably spaced out and, with Silbert's imaginative direction, the natural pace set by the writer becomes an unyielding rhythm for its first three-quarters before hitting a brief and unnecessary slump.
It unfortunately comes to a harsh halt when the nested play is first performed but then picks back up again at the very end. It's a detail that can be certainly overlooked in favour of the sheer brilliance of the rest, but it definitely has an impact on the whole.
The meta-theatrical element is heightened by the scene changes, which are carried out by the performers themselves without stopping the action with movement director's Liam Steel's delightful choreography.
Designer Robert Innes Hopkins creates a gorgeous universe of bright lights that convey the magical allure of the theatre industry and its drudgery. He forgoes smoke-and-mirrors tricks in exchange for crafty visual devices executed in plain sight.
The cast are captivating. Witty and sharp, they're spearheaded by Fox, who introduces a charismatic and likeable Edmond who orders chamomile tea in a brothel and frantically ingests pills to ease his nerves. From the moment he steps on the stage with bewildered hair and an honest passion for his craft, his act is utterly bewitching.
His physicality and demeanour transform him from an impoverished underdog to the unlikely hero of the situation. He is surrounded by a brilliant group of actors who take on different roles to establish a prismatic bunch, feeding off each other's energy and creating a whimsically hilarious and hyper-theatrical world.
To mention some, Henry Goodman brings all the egotism and self-importance of the star of the show as Constant Coquelin, who commissions Cyrano and debuts its protagonist, while Delroy Atkinson is the enlightened and educated café owner who also acts as a sort of emcee for the night. Robin Morissey is energetic as the less-than-brilliant Léo who desperately wants Jeanne (Gina Bramhill) to fall in love with him; Chizzy Akudolu is dazzling as the demanding diva Maria.
A mention of honour definitely goes to Simon Gregor, who is absolutely side-achingly funny with his handful of personas in a company whose members click together flawlessly to build a picturesque narrative. Silbert's ensemble scenes are controlled and colourful as she takes ownership of the space and makes Sams' joyous translation a triumph.
Perhaps Edmond Rostand's name might fall flat as it hits the ears of British audiences but Edmond de Bergerac is on its way to be a sparkling hit.
Photo credit: Graeme Braidwood