The real Cyrano de Bergerac was famous in 17th Century France for many things: his wit, his free-thinking, and his stubbornness. In the play his courtly enemies, stinging from his refusal to bend to them, are driven to picking on the one thing he cannot disguise with his swagger – his big nose.
Cyrano is a man who, when he is insulted in the lowest way possible, gives back his weight his witty, wordy, self-deprecating comedy. In one such scene, we are treated to a good few minutes of him listing all of the other possible creative insults his antagonist could have used instead of calling his nose ‘big’. Inspecting the noses of his peers and even of the audience, he diagnoses two chimneys with smoke puffing out of them, a writing desk, and even a couple of flats for rent sheltered in a pair of nostrils.
Just because Cyrano busies himself by larking around with wordplay, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have time for a love interest. However, Roxanne is also the object of Christian’s desires. Christian looks could kill as well as his sword-fighting, but he is sadly, well, stupid. He cannot even write a love letter to Roxanne – and that’s where Cyrano comes in.
Using his poetic mastery Cyrano crafts the courtship of Roxanne and Christian through his words, but is obviously made to face the crushing reality that he cannot have the girl so enchanted by his letters. Here is where the tragedy rears its head. Set against the background of war, the conflict of Cyrano’s and Christian’s love for Roxanne shakes out the deeper side to their human fragility: Christian is all pretty casing around a brain made of air, whereas Cyrano’s witty strength is punctuated by the physical protrusion in the centre of his face.
Although minimal props are used, the stage is usually either full of action – thanks to the wide cast of agile actors – or forgotten under the steady flow of fluent poetry. Anthony Burgess’s modern translation of Edmund Rostand’s play, selected by French director Callyane Desroches, preserves the elastic charm of the wordy original, and the St Hilda’s Drama Society give it a living spark.
Apart from the well-chosen help of live piano music, strobe lighting for the war scenes, and some real steel (yes, sword fights!), the evening of entertainment is mainly left up to the actors themselves, who slip in and out of the tragic and comic roles as effectively as a costume change. Go for the foils, stay for the lines.
Cyrano de Bergerac will be performed at 7:30pm in the St Hilda’s JDP on Weds 27th, Friday 29th and Saturday 30th of November. Tickets are available here