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Review: Cyrano de Bergerac, Northern Stage until May 16

Nigel Barrett's big-nosed Cyrano delivers his lines with aplomb even if we have to take his swordsmanship on trust

***

The parameters within which the evening’s entertainment will unfold are being explained – and someone behind has a mobile phone crisis.

You need to concentrate from line one in a play whose characters have names like De Guiche and Le Bret and are dressed similarly – but for a while I am off the pace as the buzzing goes on.

I get that we are in a theatre in a theatre as befits a comedy with an eyebrow cocked and its tongue in its cheek.

But these, of course, are not the main physical attributes associated with Cyrano de Bergerac, opinionated soldier poet and hero of Edmond Rostand’s play.

Though much blessed, he is cursed with a huge nose – which even if people are not commenting on, he imagines they are thinking about.

The sudden appearance of Cyrano, in the commanding form of Nigel Barrett, brings some focus to a production which is in danger of losing me.

Director Lorne Campbell chose Anthony Burgess’s translation for this co-production with Northampton’s Royal & Derngate theatre and Barrett, beneath a magnificent prosthetic conk, delivers his rolling, rhyming speeches with aplomb.

He loves his cousin, Roxanne (Cath Whitefield), who falls for gormless pretty boy Christian (Chris Jared). Cyrano puts his silver-tongued talents at the disposal of Christian – vocally and also in the letters he later sends her daily from the battlefield.

The second part of the play, when the action transfers to the war zone along with Cyrano and the famished cadets of Gascony, is better than the first which is very long and – that phone notwithstanding – a touch confusing.

Cyrano de Bergerac at Northern Stage
Cyrano de Bergerac at Northern Stage

The programme’s promised “thrilling choreography” never materialises; and although there are some physical jerks from the cadets of the ensemble, I could have done with more sword fighting. Cyrano’s skill with a weapon has to be taken on trust.

But the words are the thing and they are full of poetry and wit. Cyrano’s heartfelt but proxy wooing of Roxane is genuinely stirring, even if located rather apologetically to the side of a very busy stage.

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