Cyrano de Bergerac (Playhouse Theatre)

The Jamie Lloyd Company are once again in residence at the Playhouse Theatre, and their first production this season is a revival of Cyrano de Bergerac, translated and adapted by Martin Crimp.

Due to the expensive prices for plays across the West End, I decided to pay for a seat in the top level of the theatre for £39.50. The ticket stated “limited leg-room” but I don’t have long legs, and figured I’d take my chance, and looked forward to an interesting afternoon at the theatre.

However, the decision of Lloyd and designer Soutra Gilmour to stage 85% of this 2 hr 50 min production at the extreme front of the stage makes for a very frustrating experience for those in the entire Upper Circle.

Simply put, you cannot see characters, set-ups, and spend a large portion of the play listening to voices belonging to people you can’t see or seeing bits of heads through other people leaning forward, also trying to see.

Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Eben Figueiredo, James McAvoy. Photo by Marc Brenner.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Eben Figueiredo, James McAvoy. Photo by Marc Brenner.

The image above, for example. I could see the upper bodies of Roxanne (left) and Cyrano (right), but only the top of Christian’s head (middle). Some scenes were set so far front they involved me tipping forward from my seat and hanging on to the back of the seat in front, or I would have missed viewing anything and been reduced to listening to compelling pieces of verse.

The entire first half is affected and most of the second. A lady in front of me, who said she couldn’t see at all when it got to the interval, said “you expect it up here”. NO. No, you don’t. If audience members are charged up to £60 for restricted view seats which are not sold as such, I’m sorry but this is not OK.

I have often watched shows from “the gods”. This is hands-down my worst visual experience in nearly 35 years of serious theatre-going.

Well, how’s the play?

It’s very good. James McAvoy is excellent although the infamous Cyrano nose is not that prominent. The modern language sometimes lapses into clunky rhyme, sometimes into startling turns of phrase. It’s never boring. And there’s beatboxing.

James McAvoy. Photo by Marc Brenner.
James McAvoy. Photo by Marc Brenner.

The scene where Cyrano takes over to speak for Christian in wooing Roxane is a beautiful piece of theatre, but it only really works if you’re able to appreciate what’s going on in the space.

Anita-Joy Uwajeh is a wonderful Roxane, who only realises far too late that beauty comes from the inside. As Christian, I found Eben Figueiredo a touch too doltish as the man who loves a woman but can’t conjure up the words. Tom Edden is a hissable De Guiche and Adam Best a reliable Le Bret.

The piece which is painted in during act one on the back wall states “I love words. That’s all”, and Crimp’s words do bring life to Rostand’s old classic. I just can’t praise a piece that has such disregard for half of its audience that is disenfranchises them and prevents them from seeing the play as it has been conceived for this production.

I hear that a future Lloyd production here, A Doll’s House, is selling seats on the top level with the advice “parts of the play not visible”.

So punters for that show, you’ll know / be aware ’tis the same for Cyrano.

LouReviews purchased a ticket to see Cyrano de Bergerac.