In much the same way that Falstaff in Shakespeare’s plays about Henry IV (recently reviewed here and here) – but actually about Falstaff – summon up a particularly English spirt, so does Cyrano de Bergerac conjure a particularly French sensibility. And the key word the central character uses to describe this is “panache”; a flamboyant confidence in one’s own sense of style and manner particularly in the face of difficulties. A more modern take on the expression might be “styling it out”. And there is no doubt that David Leveaux’s Broadway revival of Edmond Rostand’s play in 2007 has panache aplenty both in the narrative and the production.
The cast is led by Kevin Kline which is a pretty inspired choice as he proves able to effortlessly combine the tragic with the comic and the outwardly heroic with the introspective. He is also no mean speaker of the verse in which the play is written using Antony Burgess’s witty adaptation. He has the gift (not necessarily shared by his fellow cast members) of making the stylised dialogue sound effortlessly natural but underpins his performance with a poetic idealism and a sense of dash reminiscent of Errol Flynn. The scene where he fights a duel at the same time as inventing a ballade showcases all the actor’s skills at once and his emotional departure at the end of the play provides an excellent sense of contrast to some of the more bombastic moments. And then of course, there’s the nose. It’s not ridiculously overdone and in some of the filmed closeups the join does become visible but at least it’s there. I didn’t see it so perhaps shouldn’t comment, but the most recent stage version in London with James McAvoy dispensed with the outsize hooter altogether and left it to the audience’s imagination to conjure it up. I’m afraid to me that’s like having a stick thin Falstaff and simply playing against the text in order to be contrary.
Anyway, no such infelicitations here as this is very much a traditional take on the play which will no doubt please some and not others. There are plenty of flamboyant costumes (Gregory Gale) in rich fabrics and there are plumed hats all over the stage – a panache was originally the name given to the large plume worn in outfits as a badge of honour and this Cyrano’s one is as exaggerated as might be expected. I wasn’t quite so sure of the settings (Tom Pye) which rather seemed to dwarf the actors – the theatre where it played is apparently usually reserved for big production musicals. The last act with just two actors on stage really lost all sense of intimacy and the scenes below Roxanne’s balcony all had to be played to one side of the stage meaning their impact was diminished; in compensation (if you like that sort of thing) there is a huge and radiant moon on display.
It is, as it should be, Kline’s show but this does mean that in the scenes where he is not evident things can fall a bit flat. Roxanne is played by Jennifer Garner (like Kline mostly noted for film acting) and she makes a good job of the impetuous young woman who gradually comes to understand the true nature of her cousin’s devotion – alas too late. Daniel Sunjata as Christian is not particularly remarkable in the role although his moments of self-awareness shortly before the battle are well judged. Both Kline’s co-stars do all the better for the scenes where he is pairing with them as they almost visibly lift their game. Chris Sarandon as the Comte de Guiche embodies all the less noble attributes of the aristocracy against which Cyrano reacts. The large ensemble is efficient though some fall prey to swashbuckling cliché doing shouty acting and swaggering around to no great effect.
Last year Edmond de Bergerac was on tour, a play by Alexis Michalik which examined the genesis of Rostand’s play. I don’t think I’d ever quite realised until that point that Cyrano was a piece which even originally harked back in history being premiered in the 1890s but set in the 1640s. It is definitely the latter which this production seeks to recreate. It’s been some time since I last saw Cyrano on stage (Stephen Rea at the National) and this filmed version will provide as good an introduction as any to those who have not seen it before. And to those who have – you’ll enjoy Klein’s clever performance if nothing else.
Cyrano de Bergerac is available via the streaming service Broadway HD; click here
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