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Review of Cyrano de Bergerac at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

If I was to liken Cyrano de Bergerac to a film, it would be a film that is never really going to achieve a best picture nomination, but has an uncontested winner of the best actor Oscar. I might also say that it has a couple of fine chances of supporting role nominations and that it is finished before the Titanic finally hits the bottom of the ocean.

However, it is not a film, but my flight of fancy very much sums up the whole situation. No matter how slightly dodgy the foundations are of this partnership between Royal & Derngate and Northern Stage, you cannot help leaving three and a quarter hours latter with the shear dazzle of the lead performance shining in your eyes.

My sole encounter with Edmond Rostand's 1897 story of the physically challenged, poetical hero comes from the 1987 Steve Martin film Roxanne. When I first saw it in the early nineties I was an the perfect age to fall in love with Daryl Hannah's Roxanne. However I had neither Christian's (Chris in the film) handsomeness or Cyrano's poetic prose or indeed nose (although my ears would have been up to the challenge). The film itself while maintaining the unrequited love of Cyrano of Roxanne was of course a much different beast from the play. Translated by A Clockwork Orange's Anthony Burgess, the words are lyrical, beautiful and in the early stages dangerously close to setting off my Shakespeare Alert System.

I do it a great disservice there though as it is a great deal easier to follow than some of the Bard's works, albeit much in verse that concentration is paramount. However much of the wording kisses the ear so finely due to Nigel Barrett in the lead role. He is simply stunning on all levels. Probably the finest single performance I have seen in my fourteen months of theatre introduction. He controls every scene he is in and every scene he is in, he is all you are watching. Indeed, despite the superb efforts of many of the cast, when he is not there, sometimes all you can do is wait for his return. The final scenes are devastating in their power and make every single minute before it worth the while.

Regarding minutes, despite the quality of the acting in general, and the obvious desire to tell the story complete. You cannot help that at the end of the first one hour forty-five minute half something could have been trimmed. Much of the first half hour seems superficial to the story and maybe some could have been pruned to make an easier watch. Also the actual staging of the piece is more than a little odd, set as it is in a gymnasium. It perhaps tries to be different, but does on occasion end up being just strange. Likewise are the brief interludes into rap in the first half. Even now, I am not sure what to make of them.

While this is clearly Barrett's show, there is much to liked of many of the other performances. Quick changing George Potts plays two delightfully different characters in De Guiche and Ragueneau. The two characters are so uniquely different and almost sometimes on stage at the same time, you can't help but wonder if Mr Potts is performing with his equally talented twin. Cath Whitefield's Roxanne is a frequently exquisite performance, allowing love, gentleness and when attending the battlefield, more than a hint of stubbornness. She also rises perfectly to the lofty standards of Barrett in that final scene as the true revelations are revealed. For those last few moments the power of the whole performance simply oozes from the stage and both Whitefield and Barrett are very much on the same level.

So we have an overlong first half, with more than a hint of puzzling staging but with performances that take it into the sky. Barrett however takes it beyond that and into space. Be prepared for a long first half and more than a troubling first half hour in particular and simply relax in the silky relaxing arms of Nigel Barrett's Cyrano de Bergerac. You probably might not see a performance as good as his again this year.

««««« for the performances
«««½ for the staging

Performance reviewed: Thursday 9th April, 2015 (matinee) at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

Cyrano de Bergerac runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 25th April, 2015 before moving to the Northern Stage until 16th May, 2015

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


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