Entering the Keble O’Reilly Theatre for the debut performance of Cyrano de Bergerac, I was greeted by a well-lit busy stage. I have often found that performances have difficulty filling the O’Reilly’s stage, but Cyrano’s large cast and clever direction meant that no part of it was left unused. The costume and make up were also convincingly done, far better than I have seen in other student productions, giving the impression that we were actually in 17th Century Paris.
While the play may be entitled Cyrano, the entire cast plays a strong role in keeping the fast-paced musical running smoothly. This was certainly the largest cast I have seen for any student production in Oxford (I counted 18) and the writers made sure that each member plays a vital role. From the very start of the play, the cast are immersed within the audience, running up and down stairs, whilst sword fighting with what look like real swords. The fight between Cyrano (James Bruce) and Valvert (Jody Clark) in the very first scene raised expectations for the rest of the play, and the audience were not to be left disappointed.
What makes Cyrano stand out from other productions is the combination of strong musical talent with an excellent script. The music and script were written by two students (Sam Norman and Aaron King) but had I not known this beforehand, I would have guessed Cyrano to be an early Lloyd Weber. The main motif entitled ‘I love you’ is repeated at the most crucial moments of the play, leaving it engraved into my memory – so much so that my housemate and I have taken to singing the duet whenever we cross paths.
A special mention must go to the more minor songs in the play. ‘Oh will you come with me to Gascony’ was not just a fantastic melody, but was a great contrast to the fast pace of the play. The song reminded me of ‘Tomorrow belongs to me,’ from Cabaret. Both sing of a more optimistic homeland and have wonderful flowing melodies. Similarly, ‘Swallows’ felt like it had been plucked straight out of the ‘Sound of Music,’ showing just how convincing the composition was.
However, I cannot credit the success of Cyrano solely to the music: it takes a committed cast and director to transform script into performance. The ability of the entire cast to improvise when cues were missed, and to band together for the big chorus pieces, must be commended. What really stood out from the very start was the comic ability of specific actors. The power couple of David Garrick as Ragneau the Poet/Baker and Lucy Talbot as his wife were the stand out duo of the show. Their ability to lighten the mood of the entire performance left the audience applauding every time one of them stepped on stage, and won them the largest final applause of any of the actors. Tackling perhaps the most difficult of characters to play, with both a demanding acting and singing role, Greta Thompson made commendably easy work of playing Roxanne.
Overall, the modern transformation of an old time classic did not disappoint. The classically styled music worked well with the ambiance of the performance, with melodies that will be stuck in my head for weeks to come. What was achieved in just four weeks of rehearsal is a credit to the Director (Rosie Richards) who must have worked tirelessly in order for the performance to come together. West End productions of this scale put in months of work for a standard to which Cyrano came remarkably close, and being able to pull off this production while balancing the Oxford student lifestyle is commendable in itself. What’s more, the original composition of the musical breathed new life into such a well-known plot.
A wonderful performance combining good acting, singing and comedy.