Students from Westcliff High School for Boys, Essex, have arrived in Edinburgh with 14-18 Cyrano de Bergerac, an exciting re-imagining of Edmund Rostand’s 1897 classic tale written by the school’s Director of Drama Ben Jeffreys.
Stylish, original, and very confident
The military context is heightened in this adaptation by placing the action firmly in the midst of the First World War, far from the delights of Parisian hotels and bakeries. We are reminded of the original throughout, however, by the commitment of Jeffreys to using various styles of verse form including iambic pentameters, tetrametres and rhyming couplets that facilitate variation in the pace of delivery according to the mood of the scene. This feeds directly into the eponymous hero’s skills as a poet. Cyrano also loved music and this piece opens with well-known songs that establish the period before moving on to numbers written specifically for this production that range from jingoistic tunes that accompany the cast’s carefully choreographed marching, to a delightful ballad with guitar. The ensemble convincingly meets the demands of the language and music, and wholeheartedly bring energy to the show.
As in the original, Cyrano’s mal-formed nose features largely in the show, although the issue of its precise configuration is overcome by covering it in a swathe of bandages that mask the offending proboscis and make it appear as though he has a war wound, like so many others. However, they don’t hide his self-consciousness and timidity in furthering his romantic intentions. Which brings us to the thrust of the love story, told far more straightforwardly than in Rostand’s character-riddled telling.
Jeffreys says, “The play pays respect to some of Britain's best-loved war poets, sent to fight and die for their country but unable to see their sexual orientation accepted by the very country they fought to defend”. Hence we witness the amorous advances of Christian (Jacob Guyler) towards Rex (Maxi Rowe) while Cyrano (Lewis Seal) looks on, restraining his own love for the same man, while becoming involved in their back and forth using his writing and advisory skills.
Rostand’s original introduced the word panache into the English language, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as a stylish, original, and very confident way of doing things that makes people admire you. That being the case, it can be said that the lead trio performed with panache and that it’s a characteristic that applies to the show as a whole.