Cyrano de Bergerac, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester

Young romantic in a nosedive
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The nose has it over the eyes in this lacklustre revival of Edmond Rostand's creaky old romance in which a knight with a famous conk woos a cruel-hearted young cousin through the surrogate cipher of a clodpole pretty boy.

The nose is all you see when you look at Cyrano, and in the case of Joseph Fiennes, it's very hard to get past it. It protrudes like a stiffened frankfurter and obscures his vision as well as ours.

All the great Cyranos Eric Porter on television years ago, Grard Depardieu on film, Antony Sher and Derek Jacobi in the theatre, in this same brilliant Anthony Burgess translation for the RSC overcome the handicap in a flourish of humanity and generosity.

The white plume of Fiennes's panache, however, is a paltry thing, and he keeps it stowed in his back pocket, preferring to agonise in a lower key over his thwarted love for Roxane (a brittleAlice Eve) and his splendid chivalry in penning the love letters she so wants to hear from Christian (the unusually handsome, but not blond, Stephen Hagan), the nonentity cursed with a pretty face.

The old warhorse is an odd play. Its 17th-century setting in the Paris theatre, on the battlefield and 15 years afterwards in the convent where Roxane has retreated to receive the daily gossip from the ever-loyal Cyrano, is filtered through late-19th-century archness about affairs of the heart and undying devotion.

Burgess's text, while retaining the low doggerel "feel" of the original in its poetic puns and iambic pentameters, is characterised by a lightness and intelligence that is not all that well served here. Cyrano is a man of many parts, not just a sexually symbolic proboscis he's a stand-up comedian and improviser, a brilliant drama critic, a superb soldier and the first science-fiction writer in history.

The passages about the moon, and the extraordinary scene where Cyrano passes himself off as a man who's fallen to earth are given a special boost in Burgess's version. But all we get on the stage are a few dim lighting effects and the sight of Fiennes with his head stuck in a colander for a space helmet.

Trevor Nunn has mobilised the large cast, swollen with 15 local extras, into some impressive set-pieces in the bustling of the opening theatre scenes, the bread-roll throwing at the bakery of the pastry cooks and the siege at Arras, where Ragueneau (Paul Grunert) and Roxane arrive behind the lines with a carriage full of wines, cheeses and other Gascon delicacies.

But the show never takes off, and you never feel that terrible pang of sympathy for Cyrano's sacrifice, or the plight of the unrequited lover. Which surprises me, given that Nunn is usually so adept at not shirking emotion in the musical theatre. Fiennes hasn't unlocked this role, and it's partly to do with his being much too young, and, despite the elongated nostrils, too good-looking.

To 30 May (01243 781312; www.cft.org.uk)

Comments