WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2
WHERE? Playhouse Theatre RUNTIME: 170 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)
WHEN? 30/11, press night 6/12, runs to 29/2/20
‘This’ll work – I’ve seen it in a movie with Steve Martin.’ So says McAvoy to much audience laughter as Cyrano de Bergerac before impersonating friend Christian who is struggling to woo the challenging Roxane.
- Read on for reasons including why this isn’t quite the crown on top of a remarkable year for director Jamie Lloyd
The line, removing us from Paris in 1640, and the following spot-on impersonation of the streetwise Christian is the funniest part of Martin Crimp’s adaptation of the 1897 Edmond Rostand classic which reimagines the titular hero as a king of the spoken word as comfortable in a rap battle as he is in a move conventional duel.
McAvoy won our Best Theatre Actor monsta in 2015 for Jamie Lloyd’s production of The Ruling Class at Trafalgar Studios and he is the best thing here, offering an extraordinary performance which is both unashamedly physical and, especially when realising the woman he loves is telling him she has fallen for a friend rather than himself, possessing devastating sensitivity.
His Bergerac is an outsider with a remarkably large nose although the decision for us not to be able to see the reason for his shunning is a curious one.
2019 has already been quite the year for director Lloyd whose Pinter at the Pinter season was a wildly ambitious if ultimately unsuccessful ride that peaked with Betrayal which is currently running on Broadway to acclaim.
Much better was his youthful, Glee-esque reimagining of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s Evita in the open air this summer at Regent’s Park Theatre.
Cyrano de Bergerac reminds of Betrayal because it has a love triangle, two men and a woman, at its heart. Crimp’s adaptation is occasionally powerful and beautiful but, as perhaps evidenced by the woman next to us who falls asleep during its second act, doesn’t quite justify its extravagant running time.
The supporting cast is strong however and Michele Austin‘s wise cafe owner Leila and Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s intelligent and headstrong Roxane are memorable. Eben Figueiredo’s challenged Christian multiplies the comedy that works best in the piece.
Lloyd’s emphasis on the simplicity of the staging including microphones make it easy to hear the words but the sightlines in the theatre meant that sitting on the end of the fifth row here meant that there was a much of the action that, like Roxane, we struggled to see fully. Others felt the action was so lacking that it was like watching a radio play, a theme reminding of some of the least impressive elements of Pinter at the Pinter.
If you need one reason to see this, it would be for a brilliant performance of extraordinary versatility by McAvoy. But it’s an ambitious yet flawed version of an old classic which is likely to be Marmite to its audience.
As we leave the theatre and spot actor Oliver Chris, a large queue grows of predominantly female audience members at the stage door to greet McAvoy which reminds us of the throngs that used to gather outside the nearby Harold Pinter for Tom Hiddleston after Betrayal.
McAvoy’s Cyrano de Bergerac might not have filled our nostrils with pleasure but it will be clearly like catnip to others.