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Justin Murray

Review: CYRANO DE BERGERAC at the Playhouse Theatre

It’s the 1640s - or perhaps it’s today. In the Jamie Lloyd Company’s modern-dress production of CYRANO starring James McAvoy, one isn’t quite sure.

Either way Cyrano is still the fiercest fighter and wittiest wordsmith in Paris - just don’t mention his large nose, which is something of a sore point.

Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Eben Figueiredo, James McAvoy in Cyrano de Bergerac Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Eben Figueiredo, and James McAvoy in Cyrano de Bergerac

He’s desperately in love with the beautiful and intelligent Roxane, but there’s a problem - Roxane’s in love with a young cadet in his regiment, Christian. Christian’s not the best with words so a plan is hatched: nice guy Cyrano will school Christian in what to say. But will our hero manage to hide his own love for Roxane as he condemns himself to the “friend” zone?

Martin Crimp’s verse-adaptation-come-rap-battle is a dazzling verbal display that, like Edmund Rostand’s trailblazing original, considers the power of words and the transition from poetry to prose. It is both rebelliously modern and faithful to the original.

Jamie Lloyd directed BETRAYAL last year. The much-loved Pinter play in which FRESH MEAT star Zawe Ashton acted superstars Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Cox under the table. It featured a similarly difficult love triangle and lots of theatrical tricks from BETRAYAL reappear here, such as playing key scenes with a third silent participant in the background for extra significance. Many scenes are also delivered with characters scarcely making eye contact until absolutely necessarily. This takes some serious skill to pull off and the actors should be commended for making such stylisation work. Throughout everything is conjured up with words, rather than being literally represented including, notably, Cyrano’s nose.

As McAvoy pulsates his way around the Playhouse Theatre stage; the eye is always drawn to him. So much so that the show can feel like it’s McAvoy versus the other actors, even though Anita-Joy Uwajeh in the role of Roxane and Eben Figueiredo as Christian are both excellent.

So can we entirely buy heartthrob McAvoy as an ugly underdog type, particularly without any sort of nasal extension? Luckily the sheer slickness of the whole distracts us from this central question and it’s a cracking story which manages to come across as surprisingly modern. The pertinent issues of how we present ourselves in writing really resonates today when the fall-out from a wrongly worded tweet can dominate a news cycle.

Soutra Gilmour’s set oozes Shoreditch warehouse chic, but lacks theatricality and flair. There are some lovely silences in this more reflective half, but some of the slowness is a little self indulgent and I’m not convinced the whole thing needs to be as long as it is.

It’s a zesty dish that leaves a slightly odd taste in places but Jamie Lloyd’s Cyrano is a fantastic example of a smart rewiring of classic play that even your teenagers will enjoy.

The kids in front of us loved it, while the old folks behind us walked out at the interval. Many would argue that’s exactly what West End theatre should be striving for.

Well worth your time.