Jamie Lloyd and Martin Crimp’s iconoclastic take on Cyrano de Bergerac is a bracing breath of fresh air at the Playhouse Theatre
“Decided to come out, watch a play?”
Not having any real kind of relationship with Edmond Rostand’s original play, aside from a dimly-remembered all-female version back in 2016, I approached Cyrano de Bergerac at the Playhouse Theatre with something of a blank slate, my intrigue at Jamie Lloyd’s directorial vision tempered by my fear of most anything Martin Crimp has written.
It is certainly a challenging watch and predictably, Crimp and Lloyd make us work. The free adaptation switches rhyming verse for slam poetry, Soutra Gilmour’s design gives us a starkly contemporary milieu and the fourth wall might as well not exist as lines are often spoken out to the audience. The utilitarian modern aesthetic also extends to costumes, meaning there’s no nose…
What this does is refocus the play on the power of language, as we see that it is words that woo and wound with our perception of them. James McAvoy’s movie star looks and body might not play into the traditional notion of how Cyrano looks but building in ideas of body dysmorphia hit home hard. And as rap battles take the place of duels, his insertion into the putative relationship between Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s Roxane and Eben Figueiredo’s Christian is painstakingly, powerfully done.
There’s vivid supporting work from Tom Edden and Michele Austin too and as the high-octane first half gives way to a more ruminative post-interval vibe, the slide into homoeroticism gives another interesting texture against Roxane’s reasserted feminism. A bold but welcome addition to the West End that belies what one might have considered a populist casting move.