Cyrano de Bergerac – Edmond Rostand, trans. Edwin Morgan
***** (5 stars)
Stupendous! A jaw-dropping tour de force – move heaven and earth to see this play, you won’t regret it…
Cyrano is a man with a gigantic nose – but he is also a soldier, a poet, a philosopher and a superb swordsman. He is secretly in love with his young cousin, the beautiful and witty Roxane, but fears she will never be able to love him because of his grotesque appearance. His heart beats uncontrollably when he learns that she wants to meet with him and reveal a secret – until Roxane says she is in love with a handsome young man who is about to join Cyrano’s Gascon regiment. Broken-hearted, he nonetheless agrees to protect Christian and keep him from harm: indeed, he goes further and, learning that the young man doesn’t have the brains to match his beauty, undertakes to woo Roxane on his behalf. While their courtship is carried on by letter, all is well: but then Roxanne wants to speak directly with Christian. Christian wants to do this unaided, but can’t utter a word: Cyrano first of all prompts Christian and then takes over, pouring out his love under cover of darkness, rejoicing in finally being able to make his feelings plain.
Roxane is also being wooed by the Chevalier de Guiche, who sends a friar to announce his imminent arrival. Cyrano arranges that the friar will marry Roxane and Christian while he distracts the Chevalier: when the latter realises he has been outwitted he orders Cyrano’s company to join the French army at the siege of Arras. Cyrano writes daily to Roxane and slips through enemy lines to deliver ‘Christian’s’ letters: when it is clear that shortly the company will be attacked, he writes a final farewell. Roxane, overjoyed by the letters’ contents, drives in her carriage through the enemy lines, bringing food, and wine to the starving soldiers. Cyrano warns Christian that he has continued to write to Roxane and gives him the farewell letter he has just written – but the latter now realises that Cyrano also loves Roxane and insists that he tell her and get her to choose between them. Just as Roxane is insisting to Cyrano that she would love the writer of the letters no matter how ugly he was, Christian is mortally wounded: Cyrano lies, telling Christian that Roxane chose him and letting Roxane believe that Christian wrote the words that so moved her.
Fourteen years later Roxanne, still in mourning, lives in a convent: Cyrano visits her every Saturday, concealing under a mask of humour the fact that he is now starving and penniless. Cyrano has made many enemies with his wit and swordsmanship: he is fatally injured when someone’s servant deliberately drops a log on to his head. He arrives late for the first time in fourteen years: and at first Roxane doesn’t realise that anything is wrong. It’s only when Cyrano is able, despite the growing darkness, to continue quoting from the farewell letter she’s kept next to her heart for fourteen years that she realises it was Cyrano who wrote all the letters and who poured out his heart under her balcony: that it was Cyrano she loved all the time, not Christian.
Rostand’s play was a howling success from its first night in 1897, its audience was still applauding an hour after the final curtain. This translation by Edwin Morgan was universally acclaimed when first used in 1992, and last night I saw why. Despite my not being totally fluent in Scots, I was bowled over by its exuberant energy, punchy wit and moments of quiet beauty.
The part of Cyrano is enormous, encompassing a vast range of emotions and demanding phenomenal stamina and emotional energy – Cyrano is hardly off-stage
all evening. Brian Ferguson nailed it: his elegance, ebullience, enthusiasm and emotional intensity kept me riveted all evening, while the ensemble of actor/ musicians supported and complemented him with their crackling energy and multi-talented versatility. Pam Hogg’s costumes are an extraordinarily eclectic mix of fantasy and reality; Tom Piper’s versatile and flexible set and Lizzie Powell’s lighting design enhance this incredible production: but above all, it’s the words, and the man saying them, that enthralled me just as they did Roxane:
But think: your mooth, ma words, collaboration!
She’ll melt, she’ll no resist that conflagration!
Cyrano de Bergerac, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh Runs Until Saturday 3rd November for tickets go to: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/cyrano-de-bergerac