Staging Cyrano de Bergerac as a first production in the Ashton Theatre is like diving from the top board when arriving at the swimming pool. Edmond Rostand’s turn of the century tragi-comedy is not for the faint hearted. An epic tale, written in French and translated by Anthony Burgess, it is Shakespearian pastiche, with echoes of Hamlet, Henry V and Romeo and Juliet – complete with Balcony scene.
Our hero (Harry Al-Adwani) is a romantic soldier-poet, who despite being nasally challenged, can write a sonnet and fight a duel simultaneously. His soaring soul is tortured by a ridiculously large proboscis – which prevents him from declaring his love for his beautiful cousin Roxanne. Instead of which, his verses and billets doux are delivered by proxy – apparently by his handsome but utterly stupid protégé Christian. Above all, this is a play which calls for lofty, lyrical verse speaking and, in Cyrano’s final words, more than a dose of ‘panache’.
Helen Brown, Shrewsbury’s brilliant new Director of Drama, presented a wonderfully costumed show with a set full of cobbles and balustrades, oozing Seventeenth Century charm. Her able cast were fully up to the challenge and but at their strongest in the more intimate scenes, where players such as Will Harvey (Le Bret) and Jessica Walker (Pauline) went for the lines with verve and ‘élan’.
Tom Knight, played the handsome hunk with endearing bravura – and Emily Skelton’s dizzy Roxanne made Burgess’s lines sound naturalistic and credible. Guy Cabral brought a louche sleaziness – completely out of his own character – to the part of the odious Comte de Guiche.
As for Cyrano, Harry Al-Adwani was given the task of climbing the Alps – in a vastly demanding part, with pages of poetry to memorise and sudden shifts of mood from the heroic to profound self doubt. There were some excellent moments of comedy – not least when Cyrano takes the place of Christian under the balcony. Here was a fluid actor, who was fully engaged with the role, whilst understandably challenged by the vocal demands of lyric verse. For Rostand is no Shakespeare – and, if possible, more wordy; words and images pour from the page and there is always a danger that the weight of the verbiage will clog and drag on the momentum. Even professional actors sometimes struggle to communicate the urgency of drama when the medium is verse. Nevertheless, this ‘Frog Prince’ with a heart of gold, captivated the audience from the moment of his first appearance on stage to his desperate (and doomed) last duel with Death.
This magnificent production of Cyrano de Bergerac suggests that Shrewsbury has found a director of distinction who promises an exciting future for Shrewsbury School drama.
To view more photos of the production, please see Cyrano de Bergerac - photo gallery