Theatre review: Cyrano de Bergerac, Tramway, Glasgow

Brian Ferguson as Cyrano with Scott Mackie as Christian. PIC: John Devlin
Brian Ferguson as Cyrano with Scott Mackie as Christian. PIC: John Devlin
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TO WATCH Dominic Hill’s new production of Cyrano de Bergerac in Tramway 1 is in some ways an unsettling experience, like approaching some giant, unruly and strangely glittering feature of the Scottish landscape. Co-produced with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Lyceum in Edinburgh, this is the Citizens’ Company’s first production since it moved house to make way for a three-year rebuilding programme; and in choosing to revive Edwin Morgan’s thrilling 1992 Scots version of Cyrano de Bergerac, Hill and his 14-strong company throw themselves with a passion into not one but two great arenas of Scottish cultural ferment and change – the Tramway space, and Morgan’s mighty text – and emerge slightly bloody, but triumphant.

Cyrano de Bergerac, Tramway, Glasgow *****

The show starts hesitantly, as the company camp their way through the story’s theatrical prologue; Brian Ferguson’s taut, wiry Cyrano arrives late, and almost like a walking embodiment of a classic Glasgow attitude to the arts – passionate about the act of creation, but absolutely unwilling to accept some prinked-up bourgeois version of what theatre should be.

From the start, Morgan’s language is like another player on stage, flaunting its wit and outrageous rhymes, dicing with absurdity and bathos, fiercely challenging all assumptions about how lyricism and beauty should sound. This is not only a Scots version of Cyrano but a Glaswegian one, with Jessica Hardwick’s sharp and lovely Roxane giving as good as she gets in the street-banter stakes; and if you add a torrent of punk-inflected cross-period costumes from the legendary Pam Hogg, and movement sequences by Kally Lloyd-Jones that conjure up the rebellious fighting discipline of Cyrano’s Gascon cadets in unforgettable style, the result is a continuously dazzling theatrical spectacle, as purposeful as it is unpredictable.

At the core of the story, though, there remains Rostand’s romantic 19th century narrative, the story of a mighty soldier, poet and lover with a nose so large he cannot believe himself worthy of love; and this infinitely poignant tale is finally all the more heartbreaking for emerging unscathed from the sound and fury of Morgan’s remarkable text, and Hill’s bold production.

There’s still some work to be done, perhaps, on the pacing of Cyrano’s long final monologue, which seems to tax Brian Ferguson almost to his limit, at the end of a remarkable performance in which he seems to absorb and stand for the whole meaning of Morgan’s great translation. Yet even that final imperfection is all of a piece with the jagged and unforgettable theatrical landscape of this production, which sings the big song of humanity in an inimitable Scottish voice, and with an ambition and sense of style that not only thrills the eye, but utterly wins the heart.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Tramway, Glasgow, until 22 September; Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 13 October until 3 November; Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 7-10 November.