Photos – Jeff Busby

Upon learning that things were not quite what she expected, Roxanne feels let down by Cyrano.

Upon learning that things were not quite what I expected, I felt let down by Cyrano.

See what I did there?

Well Virginia Gay’s take on Edmond Rostand's 1897 play is also full of clever and for this reviewer, maybe a little too much.

It was only right that a genuine air of good will permeated Southbank for this show’s opening night, and much chatter there was about it too. In closing only hours before opening in 2021, this covid casualty production embodied the devastating impact of Melbourne lockdowns and indeed the assault on the arts that took place in parallel to the disgraceful media and government endorsed spectre of sport impunity.

What I will never know of course, is if I may have been less disappointed in 2021 because I would not have felt, like the plays name’s sake, that it was quite so deserving of love.

Feeling a deep connection with the original and given it was out of copyright, Virginia Gay was encouraged by Director Sarah Goodes to write her own version of this much adapted narrative and to her absolute credit she did just that. The backstory, the gorgeousness of longing, recovery from isolation, wonderous connection and some really beautiful moments – it’s all there – lost amongst too much knowing nonsense, slapstick dance breaks and jokes that felt like they were written for some of us not to get.

Gay’s turn of phrase is however exceptional with her language paying homage to language itself. Where there was heart there really was heart but the terribly terribly clever intertextuality sometimes felt more like a pointing to a pointing out over allusion and by the fourth breaking of the breaking of the fourth wall, I’d grown tired of being instructed. Surprisingly though, a direct address to the audience counting us in as smart and knowing people wasn’t even accompanied by a nose tap (see what I did there!)

Interviewed, Gay questioned why it is we still tell classic stories and the responsibility story tellers and mainstage companies have in helping them to be re-examined. I wanted this production to win for me. I genuinely wanted to see the why. I wanted the reimagining the press and the marketing material alluded to, particularly after Dorian Gray’s recent extraordinary makeover. Instead – a play ‘kinda sorta’ within a play with nods to styles and theatrical conventions and maybe even some quotes from the walls of the Sumner theatre. A focus on the idea of an adaptation, a wistful pondering; a kind of explanation of the possibility of what the execution of an idea might really be like.

The show’s original music by Xani Kolac is delightful and the singing, particularly by Milo Hartill is truly lovely. Supported by an incredibly hardworking and talented cast Virginia Gay is captivating. Anchored and generous and confident in vulnerability she is near impossible to look away from.

That Cyrano finally made it to stage is a sentimental triumph but for many, this work will be inaccessible and that’s never a comfortable thing to say. I rarely leave the theatre feeling that a play was asking more of me than I was asking of it but I did and while many will enjoy some of the wonderful things being offered here – I just wasn’t one of them.

Event details

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by Virginia Gay after Edmond Rostand

Director Sarah Goodes

Venue: The Sumner | Southbank Theatre, VIC
Dates: 24 Sep — 29 Oct 2022

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