Cyrano de Bergerac | Sport for JovePhotos – Philip Erbacher

Cyrano de Bergerac  – it’s a long one indeed. That is, the famous nose and the Sport for Jove’s production itself. Time flies however, with modern updates to the classic tale and lively characters who ensnare attention.  

Guess what? Cyrano was a real person. It’s hard to believe, but if Wikipedia says so… Yes, France in the 1600s had a swashbuckling playwright dashing around with a larger than usual nose. Then in the late 1800s, Edmond Rostand used the life story and works of Cyrano to write a play in verse. What we see today is another evolution tuned to an Australian audience; in conversational style and in English.

The show begins in an ambience of an early 1900s Parisian theatre…or – with a clever twist – are we in 2017? Early on the point is made: the story may be set 100 years ago, but by golly nothing’s really changed.

And what happens in Sport for Jove’s three-hour version of Cyrano de Bergerac? The five acts build on a classic rom-com structure: guy wants girl, girl wants other guy. Who will get the girl? But the story is so much more: themes include desire, integrity, honour, and unrequited love.

At the centre of the universe is Cyrano (Damien Ryan): as swift with a rejoinder as he is deft with a parry. He is the respected yet scandalous soldier in the Gascony Cadets, raging against the machine. Well, raging against a rotund thespian, a sleazy cowardly Count and a society of sell-outs. Cyrano says what he thinks. Takes no prisoners.

Cyrano is ‘friend-zoned’ by his long-time crush Roxane (Lizzie Schebesta). And what an angel is she: strikingly beautiful, bookish and feisty, she longs to share love with an intellectual equal. But Cyrano holds himself back, believing his gigantic nose poses a barrier to any affection. Comedy and tragedy ensue as Cyrano lives out his romantic and intellectual flirtations via studly yet stupid Christian de Neuvillette (Scott Sheridan). Months of love letters and prepared whisperings build anticipation. Will Roxane discover who authors the source of the orgasmic discourse? What happens then? The constant tease is thrown into the spin cycle of history: World War 1 flings Cyrano and Christian into a siege of starvation and imminent doom. Will they live? The finale for all characters is about what anyone can hope for in life.

Highlights of the production abound: the set design by Anna Gardiner is incredible. One could imagine actual baking going on in Act Two’s bakery, and rats to crawl out of the siege hellhole in Act Four.

And bravo to Scott Witt for the choreography of a vigorous fencing duel between Viscount de Valvert (Tim Walter) and Cyrano. He slices, he dices, he recites: yes, Damien Ryan as Cyrano embodies the perfect blend of arrogant egotist with lovable rogue.

Lizzie Schebesta as Roxane fits the role like a dainty glove. Not only in physical beauty, but in the sparkling optimism that glows from her diction and poise.

Carrying the story along in context and comic relief are the supporting cast members. Most of them play at least two roles during the show. Very well too – Barry French transforms from ‘actor’ Montfleury to Carbon de Castel-Jaloux with proficiency.

As for the downsides, some dialogue seemed repetitive, such as the seemingly endless stream of nose puns. It’s snot as funny after two minutes (boom tish). But hey, that’s likely my twitching red pen tendency wanting to slash out a half-hour of script. And things move along smoothly after that. By the end, I needed a handkerchief to mop up the tears.

Quirky love stories with comedic flourishes can so easily be trite. However, Sport for Jove’s Cyrano de Bergerac is genuine, creative and thoroughly entertaining. Take a hanky.

Canberra Theatre Centre and Sport for Jove Theatre Company present
Cyrano de Bergerac

Director Damien Ryan

Venue: The Playhouse | Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates: 28 June – 1 July 2017