Jamie Lloyd’s slick direction of the love triangle tale, freshly adapted by Martin Crimp, marks an electric start to the company’s Playhouse Theatre season – ★★★★
His Dark Materials star James McAvoy participating in a poetry slam really is an exhilarating experience in Lloyd’s Cyrano de Bergerac. A shockingly under-awarded acting great (he is yet to receive an Oscar), his latest performance is incredibly experimental, mastering poetic dialogue with exceptional pace and diction.
Cyrano de Bergerac, originally penned by Edmond Rostand, follows big-nosed poet turned wingman Cyrano (McAvoy), who loves his cousin Roxanne (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), who is in love with Christian (Eben Figueiredo). Physically gifted but certainly not a wordsmith, Christian enlists Cyrano to help woo his love interest.
Another love triangle drama for Lloyd, Cyrano De Bergerac is directed in a style not too dissimilar from his take on Betrayal. Other characters remain on stage as those speaking discuss them, quite literally, behind their backs. Much like in Betrayal, it continues to allude to the sense of secrecy and insecurity, whilst also offering more. A scene involving several quick changes between the three individuals has an almost ‘musical chairs’ feel against the play’s wider lyrical background.
On the topic of spaces, Soutra Gilmour returns with another gritty, minimalistic stone set which again places emphasises the production in question as solely character-driven. The fact that performers are equipped with handheld microphones also adds another layer of focus – albeit somewhat overused and hard to follow at times.
In a similar jest, sections almost feel like a selection of scenes as a result of the play’s speedy tempo. When it works, McAvoy and Figueiredo bounce off each other in a comical way which really cements their characters are binary opposites, while Uwajeh’s Roxanne seamlessly flows between swooning and possessing sharp wit and scepticism. The full company maintain a sense of collective rhythm, no doubt aided by incredible beatboxing by Vaneeka Dadhria.
Although some bigger ideas on beauty and identity may lack the space to breathe in this energetic production, thus stripping the story down to its central love triangle, a thrilling motif stands out – not least because at one point it is painted on the back wall for all to see.
“I love words,” it reads, “that’s all”. The five-word sentence, minimalist like the set in nature, encapsulates the integral part of Cyrano de Bergerac, as a gripping celebration of the written and spoken word.
Cyrano de Bergerac is now playing at The Playhouse Theatre until 29 February.