Monday, November 24, 2014


CYRANO DE BERGERAC by Edmond Rostand.

Original Translation by Marion Potts. Adapted and directed by Andrew Upton

STC Theatre. Sydney Theatre Company. November 11 - December 20 2014

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Richard Roxburgh as Cyrano de Bergerac. Photos by Brett Boardmann

Julia Zemiro as Duenna. Eryn Jean Norvill as Roxanne
Andrew Upton directs his own adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic, Cyrano de Bergerac with sheer panache. Using Marion Potts’s original translation and his previous adaptation, Upton has catapulted Rostand’s story of the seventeenth century soldier/poet into the twenty first century with a narrative that is riveting, alive with imagination and powerful in its impact on heart and mind.

From the very start, Upton breaks the fourth wall with the entry of characters through the audience and Richard Roxburgh’s first appearance as Cyrano in a box at the side of the Sydney Theatre Company stage. Before us on stage the Paris of the time of Henry of Navarre bursts into life with a performance upon the opulent fa├žade of a Comedie Francais stage. It is a visually striking commencement to the tragi-comic story of the witty, effusive, brave and cavalier Cyrano, who must conceal his adoration of the exquisite Roxanne (Eryn Jean Norvill) while using his powers of poetry and prose to woo the beautiful heroine for the young and inarticulate Christian (Chris Ryan). It is the tangled web of altruistic deceit that will lead eventually to despair and desolation and ultimately death in the autumn leaf-bestrewn yard of the cloisters where Roxanne has sought comfort after Christian’s death at the siege of Arras.
Richard Roxburgh as Cyrano. Dale March as Valvert.

Eryn Jean Norvill as Roxanne. Josh McConville as De Guiche
Chris Ryan as Christain. Richard Roxburgh as Cyrano.
Upton’s masterly art of adaptation is imbued with theatrical elan in every aspect of this production. The flavor of the period flows from designer Alice Babage’s creative inspiration. The spirit of commedia is exalted in the setting for the opening act and the hilarious appearance of Montfleury (Alan Dukes), ballooned aloft from the trapdoor, to the derision of the critical Cyrano. The theatre’s gangways become the parapet for a thrilling sword fight between Cyrano and Valvert (Dale March) and each act excels in atmosphere. A simple reversal of the plush curtained facade reveals the bakery of Raguenau (David Whitney). At Arras, a smoke filled stage summons the essence of war’s pervading ominous air and fear. As though premonition announces the inevitable consequence of Cyrano’s fate, autumn leaves cascade upon the stage at the nunnery in the final stages of this sad tale of purposefully unrequited love. Visually and aurally, Babage’s designs, so authentic and evocative, and Paul Charlier’s accompanying composition and sound design summon the spirit of Rostand’s brilliant play and the Sydney Theatre Company’s exciting adaptation and performance. There is not a moment in this production that does not captivate and transport the audience into Cyrano’s world of adventure, romance and fateful destiny.

Eryn Jean Norvill as Roxanne. Chris Ryan as ChristianRoxanne and Christian
Bewitched by design, it is then time to admit players to this history. In every aspect, Upton’s production appears faultless, an ensemble triumph that luxuriates the senses and proves that at the heart of true experience is the power of the narrative. In this production it is pruned, precise and dynamic, rocketing through events and yet with a clarity and contrast that heightens comedy, mystery, suspense, surprise and empathy. An interval almost appears an intrusion in this two hours fifty minute traffic across the stage.

Eryn Jean Norvill as Roxanne. Richard Roxburgh as Cyrano
Although Roxburgh’s Cyrano may reign supreme in this realm of finest actors, it would be unjust to gloss over those who so worthily share the stage. Eryn Jean Norvill follows her enchanting and love-stricken Juliet in Kip Williams’ production of Romeo and Juliet last year with a Roxanne that is not only a joy to behold, but evokes such waves of empathy for her deep love and her heart-stricken loss. It is Cyrano’s eloquence and Christian’s looks that have stolen her heart, and yet this does not express fatuousness in Norvill’s interpretation but rather a true expression of a good and intelligent woman, who values the soul above the flesh. Norvill’s Roxanne rises to take its place amongst the great Roxannes that have gone before.

To single out actors in this ensemble of excellence would appear perfunctory. However, there are those whose role in Cyrano’s affairs warrants greater attention perhaps. Bruce Spence’s lugubrious and drink-affected swagger lends a gravitas to Cyrano’s impulsive nature. Josh McConville’s De Guiche is superbly crafted from flamboyant fop in elaborate apparel to the sombre Marshall in the darker garb of official dress. McConville’s Il Capitano is a highlight of Commedia lampoonery. David Whitney’s Ragenau swells with the bon homie bravura of the effusive host and Chris Ryan’s Christian strikes a chord of compassionate pity at his inarticulate inability to engage his heart with words to win his lady.  
Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne. Photo by Brett Boardmann

Chris Ryan as Christian. Richard Roxburgh as Cyrano
Rostand’s Cyrano demands the boldest of actors, the wisest, the cleverest, the weaver of magic, the actor with the courage of a soldier, the soul of a poet, the heart of a lover, the quicksilver wit of the cynic and the skill of the athlete of his craft. He must hold an audience in the palm of his hand; hear them laugh, feel them cry and leave them with a deeper understanding of the human spirit and the universal truths of the world they inhabit.

Richard Roxburgh does all this and more. When he claims that he has fought one hundred assailants and emerged victorious, we believe him wholeheartedly. We have witnessed his swordmanship and are filled with awe. When he conceals himself and lets his poetry waft through the night air to Roxanne, we believe he is in adoration of the muse he cannot claim. When he rails against the curse of his protuberant nose, we search our own imperfections and feel for his. Roxburgh achieves all this and more and we are enthralled. His is a Cyrano that cannot be missed.

As is the Sydney Theatre Company’s production. It is its faithful adherence to period combined with its regard for its time and its allegiance to Rostand’s wonderfully eternal tale, told by a superb team upon the STC mainstage and behind the scenes that has again affirmed the company’s stature on Australia’s professional theatre landscape. 
Alan Dukes as Montfleury. Richard Roxburgh as Cyrano. Photos by Brett Boardmann


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