Review: Edmond de Bergerac

IN BRIEF Jolly French romp about the creation of play CYRANO works hard to please but stays too long

Well, there’s everything but the “évier de cuisine” (kitchen sink) in this energetic ‘play within a play’ which muses about how the writer Edmond Rostand came to write French theatre’s greatest success, “Cyrano de Bergerac”, in 1897. Can-cans, hotel-door-slamming farce, mistaken identity, last gasp victory snatched from the jaws of defeat; it quite tires me out writing about it. All great fun, though. But at 2 hours 40 minutes this soufflé cooked for too long.

A busy cast of 14 do sterling work as a variety of characters. Edmond is played by the capable and likeable Freddie Fox who does an excellent job with a lot to do – he is rarely offstage. Henry Goodman enjoyably plays the noted actor Coquelin, lending it his considerable authority and also a sense of fun, particularly commanding when working with the text of the original play. Josie Lawrence gets the most out of her various roles, chiefly ageing actress Sarah Bernhardt. Also notable are Edmond’s wife, played by Sarah Ridgeway with compassion. Jeanne, Edmond’s muse, is played with sincerity by Gina Bramhill. Hugely enjoyable as the two “backers” of the play, the dodgy brothers, Nick Cavaliere and Simon Gregor give great value playing them as hyperactive pantomime Kray twins. Gregor also contributes a delightful cameo as the hotel receptionist in a wildly over-the top portrayal that caused much hilarity. There are nice English touches in Jeremy Sams’ translation, including references to trains being delayed due to “leaves on the line”. Roxana Silbert’s production is peppered with delightful bits of business and invention, the steam train created from a line of people with the leading man’s tall stove pipe hat belching smoke a particularly memorable item.

Robert Innes Hopkins’ clever set of two moveable pivoted arcaded double-height trucks and a moveable raised stage were heavily used in a variety of permutations to good effect in a busy but effective design.

The script, by Alexis Michalik is fun and cheeky, but goes on too long, and the energy flags toward the end. The opening and closing of each act was unconventional and in my opinion lacked the necessary ‘panache’ (the word that CYRANO was credited with reviving). However, it was well-received by the 60% full house at the beautiful Richmond Theatre, and as a good night out it certainly achieved its aims.