First published in The Times, Monday September 10 2018
The autumn theatre season has rolled around again, but for Dominic Hill and the Citizens Theatre it is far from business as usual. Cyrano de Bergerac is the company’s first production since taking up residence at nearby Tramway while its Gorbals HQ undergoes renovations. Hill’s take on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 verse drama, based on the celebrated 1992 Scots translation by Edwin Morgan, is an ambitious team effort, co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Lyceum, that will tour stages around the country.
The brick walls and raked seating of Tramway may be like chalk and cheese to the Citizens’ Victorian auditorium, but the production nonetheless bears Hill’s imprimatur, with the 14-strong ensemble changing costume in full view of the audience and the action punctuated by Nikola Kodjabashia’s startling live soundtrack of repeated piano and guitar refrains and crashing percussion.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
The lengthy, somewhat rambling opening scene in the theatre of the Hôtel Burgundy means that we are made to wait for the arrival of Brian Ferguson as Rostand’s flamboyant poet-soldier, but this delayed gratification is worthwhile. Lithe, shaven-headed and sporting a T-shirt with a saltire emblazoned across the chest, Ferguson looks more Renton from Trainspotting than portly Gérard Depardieu. His performance features the expected swagger and arrogance while allowing regular glimpses at the vulnerability of a man who believes himself ugly and can only imagine winning the love of his dream woman, Roxane (Jessica Hardwick), via a handsome proxy, Christian (Scott Mackie).
In a play about the transformative power of words, Hill’s production is certainly at its best during the most romantic scenes, when Cyrano’s poetry and Morgan’s witty, muscular translation take flight. The scene in which Cyrano, with Christian as his mouthpiece, woos Roxane as she stands on her balcony, is all the better for Hill’s paring back the aesthetics to focus on the text.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
While there are undeniably moments when the bustle onstage means that we occasionally miss out on some of the nuances in the writing, there are some real gems among the set-piece ensemble scenes, with tightly choreographed interplay between the cast and the music and set and lighting design from Tom Piper and Lizzie Powell. The final act is particularly painstakingly staged: it is hard to imagine many actors with the range and stamina to tackle Cyrano’s weighty final monologue than Ferguson, here at the top of his game.