Ooh, la la!
What nose around comes around as five-time Molière Award-winning play ‘Edmond de Bergerac’ makes its UK premiere at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
Written by Alexis Michalik, the play, which continues to sell out to audiences in Paris, has been translated by Jeremy Sans for its UK audiences, and is directed by Roxana Silbert, featuring playfully Parisian set design by Robert Innes Hopkins, lighting by Rick Fisher, and sound by Dan Hoole.
Paris, 1895. Nose were the days.
Playwright Edmond Rostand has writer’s block. Disheartened after his latest flop, ‘The Distant Princess’, he struggles to find inspiration for a new work. Two years pass, and his waste-paper basket overflows with scrunched up paper bearing fruitless ideas. When he is commissioned by celebrated actor Coquelin to write a comedy, however, Edmond is constrained by a fast-approaching deadline and the fate on Coquelin’s theatre resting in his hands. A difficult task for a writer nobody nose, Edmond soon finds inspiration in the form of Jeanne, who becomes his muse.
However, Jeanne is the love interest of thespian Léo who, though keenly aware of his good looks, lacks the means to woo her. On his behalf, Edmond begins writing love letters to Jeanne, who becomes captivated by his words, and by the man she thinks is writing them – Léo. Mishaps, mischief and mayhem, and all nose kind of things ensue as this gives Edmond his long-awaited idea for a play, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’.
This is Paris. And in Paris, anything nose.
A fictional account of French dramatist Edmond Rostand’s creation of French classic, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, this farcical production is, like Edmond’s own play, a triumph.
With witty dialogue, slapstick comedy, theatrical clichés and meta-humour in abundance, this play within a play gives us a hilarious insight into the stumbling blocks faced by writers, directors, producers and actors when staging a play which, it seems, is much easier said than done. We see the struggles faced when actors complain of having too many lines, not enough lines, the actors that would rather be elsewhere (making pastry, for instance), the limited budgets, the fleeting rehearsal time, the shabby, recycled costumes, and the deadly trapdoors.
Freddie Fox gives a winning performance as inky-fingered playwright Edmond Rostand. Favouring tragedy over comedy, and poetry over prose, he faces a dilemma when charged with writing a comedy. Fox gives a powerfully passionate performance, his romantically-charged poetic monologues particularly alluring. Plagued at the beginning of the production, Edmond is visibly disheartened after his latest work refuses to become a hit. Unable to provide financially for his wife and children, Fox deftly plays the character as having hit something of a slump, his lack of inspiration leafing him devoid of any motivation. However, after intellectual stimulation by way of Gina Bramhill’s wide-eyed and spirited Jeanne, Edmond is revitalised, and begins to write once more. As the two embark on an affair of the epistolary form – one we are told is founded on desire, but not on love – with Jeanne believing she is communicating with Léo, Edmond uses their love letters as a literary foundation for his new play, hoping to avoid discovery.
Henry Goodman shines as actor Constant Coquelin. A mature Musketeer figure, he struts around the stage with wooden sword and feather plume hat, a learned and experienced thespian from the golden age of theatre. Josie Lawrence dazzles as faded theatrical legend Sarah Bernhardt, and Chizzy Akudolu is hugely entertaining as diva Maria, leading lady and mistress, it turns out, to both producers of the show. (It’s who you know). Sarah Ridgeway gives a very convincing performance as Rosamonde, wife to Edmond, increasingly suspicious when perfumed letters keep arriving at their address. Delroy Atkinson is compelling as local café owner and supplier of camomile tea, Monsieur Honoré, and Robin Morrissey gives a hilarious turn as Léo, with a particularly impressive stunt involving a ladder to his name. Nick Cavaliere (Ange), Harry Kershaw (Jean), Simon Gregor (Marcel), and David Langham (Lucien) each give impressive performances as each takes on a range of colourful characters, alongside their major role.
With the Moulin Rouge a frequent setting, the inclusion of Offenbach’s spectacular ‘Can Can‘, and a character called Roxanne, ‘Edmond de Bergerac’ is an elephant love medley to theatre.
A kiss from a nose on the stage!