James McAvoy stars in a new adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergera (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Cyrano de Bergerac

Playhouse Theatre, London

Director: Jamie Lloyd

Starring: James McAvoy, Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Eben Figueiredo, Michele Austin, Adam Best, Sam Black and Nari Blair-Mangat

By Lauren Codling

IN the titular role of the French romance Cyrano de Bergerac, actor James McAvoy may have given one of the best performances of his wide-ranging career.

Perhaps a bold statement, but the BAFTA winning star is truly electrifying as the passionate poet with an extraordinarily ‘large’ nose in the latest adaptation of the Edmond Rostand classic. He is both ferocious and vulnerable as the remarkable Cyrano, a man crippled with self-doubt and desperately in love with his cousin Roxane.

However, the tale of the gifted lyricist is brought to life by not only McAvoy but the entirety of the talented (and wonderfully diverse) cast.

Eben Figueiredo and Anita-Joy Uwajeh star in Cyrano de Bergerac

Using contemporary dress, beatboxing and an array of regional accents (including McAvoy’s native Glaswegian tone), Jamie Lloyd’s production transforms the heroic comedy into a fresh, edgy version for a modern audience.

Staged similarly to a live poetry jam night, it jolts from comedy to drama in swift turns but steady enough that we do not lose a grip on the emotive narrative. Some of the verses are startlingly complex – it is almost mind-blogging how the cast can spout such complicated, lengthy rhymes at ease.

We are treated to an energetic, almost overwhelmingly at times, introduction to Cyrano. A poetry battle using a microphone wire as a skipping rope? It may sound insane, but it is wonderfully comical in all the right places.

‘McAvoy is truly electrifying as the passionate poet with an extraordinarily large nose’

And there is intensity and pain too – a scene when a visibly grieved Cyrano provides his rival Christian with the amorous language to woo Roxane is one of the most powerful, catching the breath of every single audience member present.

Strangely, Cyrano’s large nose is notably absent (actors before have always donned an exaggerated prosthetic in various adaptations of the play). When questioned by reporters, McAvoy put this down to the power of an audience’s imagination – and with a lack of props and a simplistic set, this seems justified enough.

It may lack an exaggerated nose, but the inventive, exciting and all-together exhilarating performances make up for it.

We give Cyrano de Bergerac five out of five stars.

 Cyrano de Bergerac is now booking to 29 February 2020