The works by French poet and playwright Edmond Rostand, just one of the victims of the influenza pandemic which swept the world in 1918, are today largely forgotten; the one exception is his 1897 "heroic romance" Cyrano de Bergerac. Arguably the world's most famous play about "noses, war and love letters", Cyrano has enjoyed numerous revivals and adaptations on stage and screen, and been translated into English by authors including Anthony Burgess and Christopher Fry.
It's genuinely lucky to have Brian Ferguson, a charismatic actor with the sinewy energy to hold centre stage.
Its "ugly duckling" story of a brash, strong-willed, poetic soldier forced by circumstances and self-doubt to write love letters, on behalf of a fellow cadet, to the woman he himself adores, has long resonated with audiences. Its innate emphasis on the power of words, however, has often proved problematic: arguably, none of the other adaptations have proved quite as "on the nose" (if you pardon the pun) as this Glaswegian Scots verse translation originally commissioned by Communicado Theatre Company for the 1992 Edinburgh Festival Fringe from the pen of Scotland’s inaugural Makar, Edwin Morgan. It's full of energy, emotion and some pretty forceful rhymes.
This provides its own challenges, not least finding a cast capable of imbuing Morgan's audacious verse with emotional truth, and a lead actor with sufficient swagger, energy and stamina to play Cyrano – a character who, once he appears, is essentially on stage for the best part of three hours. Given the resources behind this new co-production between Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum, and the National Theatre of Scotland, it's little surprise its cast are at home with the language; but its genuinely lucky to have Brian Ferguson, a charismatic actor with the sinewy energy to hold centre stage.
Dominic Hill's familiar directorial style (he prefers a curtain-less stage, cluttered with tables, chairs, and costume racks, among which the cast mingle, sometimes wearing outrageous frocks and hairdos) fittingly focuses our attention on the words and emotions. Unlike its earlier run within the reportedly troubling acoustics of Glasgow's Tramway, here in the more traditional proscenium-arched Royal Lyceum Theatre, the cast are more clearly understood, at least emotionally, for it's fair to say that some of Morgan's vocabulary undoubtedly passes this somewhat middle-class Edinburgh audience by; but Lizzie Powell's lighting again superbly focuses our attention where it should be.
If there's a potential failing in Morgan's translation, it's that he doesn't sufficiently cut back Rostand's early scene-setting; the story only kicks off once we understand the love-triangle between Cyrano, gauche lover Christian (Scott Mackie), and the object of both their affections, Roxane (a delightfully lucid, sharply nuanced Jessica Hardwick). Nevertheless, this production successfully imparts the original’s bittersweet tone: that only time distinguishes the superficial from the genuine, and often too late.