After his television dalliance with Gavin and Stacy it would be a delight to welcome Stephan Rhodri back to Theatre Clwyd in any role…but this one suits and extends him wonderfully. As the proud possessor on a not inconsequential hooter myself, may I welcome him to the Big Nose Club – as an absolutely excellent Cyrano de Bergarac.
This is a monumental play of Shakespearean proportions. A huge stage greets us, lit by a forest of candles and serenaded by a tuning orchestra. Tides of actors sweep across its grey pave stones…through lofty court, cynical battlefield and echoing nunnery … as a story of unrequited love and unrewarded honour emerges.
Blighted by his appearance, Cyrano employs his beautifully persuasive eloquence to win the heart of the woman he loves for his handsome, tongue-tied rival. “She kisses my words”, he forlornly observes, “not his lips”. The poetry – which flits from language to language – is sublime; with the Welsh poet Twm Morys supplementing Anthony Burgess’s English translation of Edmond Rostand’s original French text.
Rhodri’s entrance as Cyrano cleverly comes from the dark shadows at the back of the auditorium – so it’s a while before we see his problem. I thought I knew every big nose joke in the book (in my case they run in the family) but his litany of nasal puns is a bridge beyond. “My nose proceeds me” he cries … and it’s very impressive. Full marks to make up.
Like many men with an affliction, Cyrano resorts to being both bolshie and comic. It’s a hugely spirited, rumbustious performance, which turns on a sixpence into morose melancholy. Rhodri plays him as an anti-hero you can’t help cheering for or, indeed, crying for.
The object of his desires, the beautiful Roxanne, is played by Sara-Lloyd Gregory like a bouncing spring lamb with ringlets. Her arrival at the starving Gascony battle lines in celestial white gown and an aristocratic carriage stuffed with provisions is a wonderfully emotional set piece; the put-upon, defeated, squadron instantly reinvigorated.
Yet, in a moment, her beau, Christian, (“a nonentity with a pretty face” played by Marc Rhys) is slain; and when we next see her 15 years later she has taken her vows and joined a convent…receiving, weekly, the painfully principled Cyrano – who is still unable to plight his troth.
There’s no lack of emotional range in this production. It soars one minute and implodes the next. The management really should provide seatbelts
It is an undeniably long evening. The play runs for well over three hours; one of which passes before we even get to the crux of the matter. A more timid director might consider cuts. But which nuances do you axe? Which of the skilfully crafted statesman-like speeches do you abandon? And dare any director deprive the audience of even a few lines of such beautiful composed language? The play unfolds like an evening primrose – in its own time. And it’s worth the wait. Philip Breen certainly made the right call and his production is a five-star must-see.
If Theatr Clwyd ever ran a race of its most impressive plays ever, Cyrano De Bergerac would win it by a short nose .
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