A classic love triangle is at the centre of this National Theatre of Scotland production of Edwin Morgan’s take on the classic French tale of long-nosed Cyrano. Cyrano, cursed with less than stellar looks but having the gift of the gab, is in love with Roxane. However, Roxane is in love with the handsome yet unpoetic Christian, who woos her using the words of Cyrano. Behind them all lies the powerful De Guiche, the man who wants Roxane and ultimately sets events towards a tragic conclusion.
At least, I think that’s the main thrust of the plot. It’s not easy to find buried under interminable layers of extended ensemble nonsense from the largely wasted cast. The opening scene is a microcosm of what is to follow; irritating nonsense bordering on incoherence as all of the players (I hesitate to say “characters” as none of these stereotypes have enough depth to merit that term) all overact backstage in a theatre. Cue campery, big dresses and a general sense of unfocussed, clichéd chaos which rapidly outstays its welcome. There will be more of this to come, with dancing on tables and pointless running through the audience. It’s difficult enough to determine what is happening without the actors visibly removing focus by roving during the first act.
Billed as a translation by Morgan, the use of broad Scots for the rhyming dialogue doesn’t aid understanding. For the vast majority of the running time this production comes across as gibberish annoyingly delivered. It also jars slightly; the use of Scots for such a quintessentially French text is baffling the more you stop and think about it… to the extent it starts to act as barrier intellectually as well linguistically. Nothing especially clever is made of the fact the characters are Scottish in all but name, unless stopping during a comic sword fight for a swig of Irn Bru is regarded as the height of witty sophistication.
Brian Ferguson as Cyrano is largely one note, monotonously so. He threatens the audience at one point, apparently, but you’ll be hard pressed to understand what he’s saying and thus care. Everyone else struggles gamely on throughout. However, when it seems your main raison d’être is to exclaim and whoop on stage in broad strokes every few minutes, it all becomes wallpaper. Some moments are good, and these are all notably moments which concentrate on the actual plot and drama. For example, Christian wooing Roxane under her window like a sub-par Romeo using the words of another man in an attempt at “perfect fusion” is a genuinely arresting moment. It’s an act of kindness creating a tragically tangled mess for all concerned.
However, moments like this are few and far between. Worse, the incident mentioned above occurs well over an hour into the play. Perhaps Morgan’s text adheres too faithfully to the original; the first act comes in at bum-numbing 115 minutes. This veers between adequate and downright unwatchable. A judicious pruning would help bring some focus to the rather scrappy and unendearing proceedings. The second act, at just over an hour, is summarised when Roxane exclaims “the siege is far too lang”. The exposition overload as the action jumps fourteen years may be inherent in the original text but it’s downright clunky here, especially after the rest of the production has been something of a longueur. As he ascends the scaffold to visibly mirror Christian, I found myself willing Cyrano to hurry up and die to bring the whole protracted affair to an end.