Nuns, Buns, Puns, and Guns
Cyrano de Bergerac
by Edmond Rostand, adapted by Glyn Maxwell
Putney Theatre Company at Putney Arts Theatre until 25th June
Review by Andrew Lawston
It’s always with something of a jolt that we are reminded that Cyrano de Bergerac is only a little more than a century old. Edmond Rostand’s classic play premiered in 1897, but its combination of historical setting, verse form, and its huge popularity and the impression it’s made on popular culture all give it a timeless feel.
This new production of Glyn Maxwell’s adaptation of the play is performed using traverse staging between two wooden arches. A gaggle of excited nuns set the scene on the way to vespers, wondering where their daily storyteller has got to. Within minutes, the holy sisters are engaging in enthusiastic but decidedly secular swordplay with wooden canes, and selling oranges to each other as they evoke the Parisian theatre where the story begins.
Director Stuart Watson makes the most of his simple set as the theatre doubles as a convent, a battlefield, a bakery, and even as a theatre for the first half hour or so. Set changes amount to little more than moving four benches around, and so are fluid and assured. All the audience’s attention is constantly focused on the actors.
The play is witty and fast-paced, and the two hour running time flies past. David Erdos leads a strong ensemble cast as Cyrano, boasting a powerful voice on a par with his mighty prosthetic nose. He holds the stage from the moment he disrupts the play in which the grotesque Montfleury is appearing, and it’s a true tour de force performance of an incredibly demanding role.
Cyrano is joined by the poetic Roxane, here played by Lizzie Iredale with childlike exuberance and huge energy. Her affection for the cousin with whom she grew up is palpable in their brief scenes together, but she also conveys her love for Christian.
Rajeev Soni turns in a fantastic performance in the challenging role of Christian de Neuvillette. Smitten with Roxane, Christian is a handsome but pragmatic soldier, his direct speech no match for Roxane’s poetic soul. The temptation to play such a part for laughs is clear, but Soni plays it all admirably straight, adopting stiff body language and making the most of his imposing height to convey Christian’s essentially awkward nature.
Cyrano’s friends Le Bret (played with, well, panache, by Megan Good) and the hopeless poetry fan and master baker Ragueneau (Tom Sainsbury) light up the stage whenever they appear, cutting through Cyrano’s angst and bringing out his sense of humour.
But every play needs a villain, and although he’s not wholly irredeemable, David Miller’s smooth Count Antoine de Guiche is suitably slimy and unexpectedly honourable by turns.
Meanwhile the nuns, led by the imposing Aurore Padenou as Mother Margaret, continue to act as a chorus of Gascony cadets, poets, or indeed nuns, as required. Katerina Spiga, Matilda Knight, Juliet Isherwood, Frances Bodiam, Olivia Jackson, Lyndall Brown, and Amanda Killman all sing, act, and break out musical instruments in an apparently endless series of character changes, and all of them have their moment to shine, whether it’s Matilda Knight’s duel with Cyrano as the foppish Valvert, or Katerina Spiga hamming it up as Montfleury.
Although the swords for various acts of swashbuckling have been replaced by bamboo sticks, the production wisely involved fight director Amanda Killman, and all the action looks realistic while keeping the actors safe. With Angela Botha as movement director and Penny Weatherall as a choreographer, it really feels as though every aspect of this production is aiming for the highest possible standards, which it certainly achieves.
Live musicians also provide the soundtrack, sitting to one side of the stage (Perry Kitchen, also the composer and musical director) and Stan Stanley, with Lyndall Brown and Amanda Killman joining them both off stage and sometimes on stage, producing a rich and authentic sound with a limited range of instruments.
Cyrano de Bergerac is a highly-polished and atmospheric production of a much-loved but also technically challenging play. It comes highly recommended for a wonderful evening of entertainment.
Andrew Lawston, June 2022
Photography by Rich Evans