THEATRE / Who're you looking at, Jacques?: Paul Taylor finds his resistance overcome by Communicado's Glaswegian production of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac

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The Independent Culture
'YOU give me Perrier; I want Barsac,' complains Sandy McDade's narked Roxane to a dishy, but thick suitor who, in the verbal love-making stakes has a pronounced and, did she but know it, permanent case of poet's droop. Using Edwin Morgan's racy new adaptation, which translates Rostand's Gallic verse into a gritty, yet supple urban Glaswegian, Communicado's touring production of Cyrano de Bergerac, serves up an exhilarating mix of Irn Bru and champagne.

The translation is tangily colloquial. 'I cannae rap,' reveals one reluctant bard; 'inaction/Gets up his nose, right to distraction,' says Roxane of the idealistic hero - and it's a version in which the down-to-earth and the elevated often end up cheek-by-jowl. 'Achilles,' for example, has to slum it in the same couplet as 'the willies'. Registers clash with irreverent irregularity. Explaining his proud refusal to toady to patrons and his readiness to make enemies of the powerful, the soldier-poet Cyrano proclaims that 'To displease pleases me. Hatred's in,' a line which pushes Sir Philip Sidney off his perch halfway through.

It's a translation too that revels in outrageous, rough-and-ready wordplay ('Finest finesse is finally finito'), but is capable, when it's called for, of striking a note of heartfelt simplicity. The lines in which Cyrano (speaking on behalf of Christian) abjures fancy rhetoric for a plain declaration of love to Roxane, has a touchingly exposed quality: 'I used wit to win you,/But now it would be the wrong tale to spin you'. Above all Morgan has cast the verse so that, even at its most self-conscious or elaborate it gives the impression of being uttered spontaneously by the speaker.

There is a programme credit to Grant Mason's Make-up effects for 'The Olfactory Embellishment'. This is a coy way of describing a bulbous false proboscis that makes Tom Mannion's visage look, shall we say, very well-hung. As a cubist caprice, Dame Nature here seems to have stationed his wedding tackle between his eyes, a fact Cyrano himself glances at when he asks, with touchy sarcasm, if people think his nose is 'manky' and 'shaped for hanky- panky'. To show what he means, he gives the air a brisk nose-job. Mannion's superlative Cyrano has the measure of more, though, than the hero's outsized hooter.

Apart from when watching Depardieu in the recent film, I have never really warmed to Rostand's protagonist before, finding something lacking in a hero whose psychic problems could have been solved if there had been plastic surgery at the time (it would take more than rhinoplasty to cheer up, say, Shylock). There is something irritating too about a heroine who seems to think that a poet's heart is always, by definition, in his fine words. Mediating between Sandy McDade's Roxane (a pleasingly unwet, roguish girl who seems to have been sculpted by Giacometti) and Gavin Marshall's likeable male bimbo of a Christian, Mannion turns in a tragi-comic tour de force that sweeps aside objections.

As with Gerry Mulgrew's resourcefully staged production, there's a passionate earthiness and irreverence in the performance that makes you willing to stick with it during the flights into quixotry and pathos. And it's Mannion's refusal to milk the scenes of Cyrano's self-sacrifice that make them so moving. He lets you see the pain of unrequited love, but he also makes sure you notice the panicky self-protection that qualifies the apparent selflessness. Purists may recoil from the presentation of the Gascon cadets as cheerful, leather-jacketed bovver-boys or the scene where the Mother Superior is seen perusing the Racing Post. But there can be no complaints about the spirit of the piece. During the death scene, I turned to sneer at whoever was sniffing; then realised it was me.

Continues on tour. Ring 031 228 5465 for details.

(Photograph omitted)

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