Monday, April 27, 2015

'Cyrano de Bergerac' based on the translation by Anthony Burgess of the play by Edmond Rostand

27 April 2015

On Saturday we were at the Royal Theatre in Northampton to see 'Cyrano de Bergerac' – a co-production by Royal & Derngate Northampton and Northern Stage, based on the translation written by Anthony Burgess of the play written by Edmond Rostand. 'Cyrano de Bergerac' is such a familiar story it was a surprise to realise I hadn't seen the play before. And it was interesting to discover its history: Rostand's 1897 play was based on a real-life duellist and literary figure who lived in early 17th century France. It was translated into English – in prose and in verse – several times before the 1971 version by Anthony Burgess entered the canon as a modern classic. Burgess, the author of 'A Clockwork Orange' was an accomplished translator (and a composer). According to the programme, he rewrote Rostand's original verse (rhymed alexandrines) as “decasyllabic heroic couplets, with occasional diversions into sonnets, hexameters, and free verse for the moving final scene”. All of which helps to emphasise the fact that 'Cyrano de Bergerac' is a play about poetry and drama. At times the plot feels almost incidental to an exploration of ideas about language and performance. The Royal & Derngate/Northern Stage production, directed by Lorne Campbell, starts metatextually with Cyrano speaking to the audience about the play we are about to see. The action is set in a gymnasium, complete with climbing bars and vaulting horses. Most of the actors wear fencing whites, which they adorn with brightly coloured hats or scarves to indicate the various roles they assume through the play. It is an energetic and intriguing production but it felt like an odd mix of styles. The plot was often interrupted by the performance of standalone poems, with the actors occasionally using a microphone hanging from a long cable for these performances within the performance. The Burgess version is clearly extremely clever, playful and witty but I felt I really needed to read it to get the full effect of the text. Nigel Barrett was a very impressive Cyrano, commanding the stage physically and vocally. It was also fascinating to discover, afterwards, that the production's ensemble cast was made up of six emerging performers from Northern Stage's NORTH scheme – a 21 week paid training programme to support and develop young actors in the North East of England, part of Northern Stage's commitment to creating access and opportunities for working class actors with exceptional talent.

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