Don’t you love farce? Well turns out I rather did like Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac at the Richmond Theatre
“But will the audience come?”
I do love a comedy that unexpectedly makes me laugh a lot. It is a genre, particularly when it leans towards farce, that can be a tricky one to get right and there’s nothing worse than being the only one stony-faced in a theatre full of people roaring their heads off (qv me at One Man Two Guvnors, or most Feydeau plays). But sometimes it works, sometimes there’s a Noises Off in there, and treading a similar-ish path is Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac as it tracks the on- and off-stage shenanigans of a theatre company whilst playwright Edmond Rostand struggles to write Cyrano de Bergerac for them.
And I have to say that I chortled merrily through Roxana Silbert’s production, which has popped around the country after a run at Birmingham Rep. It is thoroughly silly, doesn’t take itself seriously for a single moment, and is consequently most enjoyable if just a touch overlong. Freddie Fox’s Rostand is a struggling writer whose last show was a flop and with the bills mounting, is blocked. His artistic juices are only stimulated when his pal Léo commissions him to write a suite of love letters to seduce a new would-be paramour on his behalf and the spark of a new play ignites as life imitates art imitates life and opening night fast approaches.
With a quality cast to hand (Josie Lawrence, Henry Goodman, Chizzy Akudolu aka the great contestant Strictly will never have) and a door-filled set (Robert Innes Hopkins) ready for action, Silbert governs the dynamics of Michalik’s comedy well, maintaining a vibrant energy that sparks throughout. And not a moment for comic potential is wasted in any of the supporting characters – Simon Gregor’s hotel manager is outrageously good fun, David Langham provides an amusing set of famous cameos and Lawrence is a truly magnificent stage presence as a drily witty Sarah Bernhardt.
The play could benefit from something of an edit though. It doesn’t justify its running time here as it mashes together too much, from Rostand’s tangled personal life alongside the rehearsal period of Cyrano with each member of the company getting at least two subplots, before we get to the raucous performance of the play. And Michalik makes the curious choice to go metatheatrical about race but not gender which lends a certain imbalance overall. But if you’re enjoying yourself, then you tend to be more forgiving and Edmond de Bergerac certainly got this clown smiling.