Scottish Cyrano

by wjw on February 22, 2020

Last night I thought I’d see what’s up with Britain’s National Theater, so I nipped up to Albuquerque to see James McAvoy in a new adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac.

This was a performance of the play, allegedly live, broadcast to select theaters in North America.  I’m not sure about the live part, because that would have meant the curtain went up at 1 or 2 in the morning in London, but at least it was a recording of a live play, which you could tell because the actors’ mistakes weren’t edited out.

The dialogue is delivered as a form of rap, which makes more sense than you think it might.  Rostand’s original play was written in rhyming couplets, so all you have to add to the mix are some beats.  A rap Cyrano at least makes more superficial sense than a rap production of the life of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

McAvoy is known partly by following his fellow Scot, Patrick Stewart, in a number of roles.  McAvoy’s Macbeth followed Stewart’s, and he also followed Stewart as Professor Xavier in the X-Men franchise.  I wondered a little about a Scottish rapping Cyrano, as I hadn’t heard anything about McAvoy rolling in his cherry six-four to the cipher down 40 Side, rhyming to the ambient beats while drinking beat juice and smokin’ cheeba.  (Surely I would have heard.)

Everyone wore modern dress.  The stage was a bare, empty box, with only mic stands and a few cheap stackable chairs.  Some chances taken, there.  Another chance was the utter absence of Cyrano’s famous nose, leaving nothing to impede our admiration of McAvoy’s movie-star-handsome face.

On the other hand, if you can imagine an empty box being Paris in 1640, and people in hoodies and tees being swashbuckling cavaliers, you can imagine a large beezer on Cyrano’s face.  Am I right?

The whole play’s about objectification, if you haven’t noticed.  Christian and Roxane fall in love with each other because they’re beautiful, and Cyrano can’t get anyone to love him because he’s ugly, no matter how many poems he writes or thugs he cuts down.  Most of the rest of the cast are pretty damn superficial, too.

By the end of the play I didn’t care about the empty box or the non-nose or the hoodies, because everyone was just too good.  The play reminded me why I care about theater.

Eben Figueiredo and Anita-Joy Uwajeh were excellent in the parts of Christian and Roxane, but McAvoy’s performance was stunning.  You could believe this handsome guy thought he was ugly, you could believe he was the victor in a hundred rap battles, and you were breathless when he faced the audience and said his lines.

The final dialogue between Roxane and Cyrano went on for maybe twenty minutes, with both of them facing downstage and reacting as if the audience was the other actor.  Which is why I love theater, because you can watch people talk for twenty minutes at a go and have your heart in your throat the whole time.

That never happens in movies or TV.  You can’t have people recite rhyming couplets for that long, you have to interrupt it with a gunfight or a sex scene or have a CGI planet blow up.

This will turn up on a streaming service one of these days, and you need to see it.  Because that Rostand dude coined some phat beats.

John F. MacMichael February 22, 2020 at 8:13 am

Thanks, I will keep an eye out for it. Your review was an effective one since my initial reaction to the idea of “Cyrano” in rap was “No way!” but after reading what you wrote I find myself intrigued.

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