We were privileged to see the Comedie Francaise in a revival of the much loved French classic by Edmund Rostand CYRANO DE BERGERAC. (yes in French, with English subtitles).

Rostand’s play tells of the soldier-poet Cyrano de Bergerac, who is a brave and resolute man, full of passion and wit, who is accomplished both with words and swords, but is afraid of rejection by the woman he loves.

Cyrano is in love with the beautiful intellectual Roxanne but dares not to woo her because of his over size nose. However he helps Christian – who is handsome but not majorly intellectual – to woo Roxanne with passionate letters. Only on Cyrano’s deathbed does Roxanne discover that she has been the love of his life.

Under Denis Podalydes‘ direction this is a superb production – stirring , teasing , sombrely military,  sometimes floating and lyrical, at other times erupting with volcanic passion. The HUGE heart of this sweeping epic is vibrantly brought to life by its magnificent cast and crew.

It is set as written in the seventeenth century – brilliant period costumes with incredible attention to detail – yet also has a futuristic aspect in the design aspect.

In Act 1, TV monitors depict the action to the audience , and the audience of the play within the play.  Act 2 set in Ragueneau’s bakery is fabulous, with racks of hanging birds as well as frantic chefs and lots pf pastries.  Act 3  features a lyrical, shimmering green garden like effect.

Cyrano’s manic monologue to distract de Guiche is performed in front of the red front theatre curtain. The fourth act is in some ways Les Mis like, with the scaffolding and use of tattered red rags, but there are also allusions to Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa and also very poignantly the use of red poppies both scattered in the field and  as a symbol of blood and death. The last Act opens with the chattering nuns framed as if sitting on a swing.

As Cyrano , charismatic Michel Vuillermoz is magnificent, giving a towering performance. He is at time dashing and swaggering, true to his ideals and principles, yet there is another aspect of him that is massively insecure and suffers from self loathing.

The duel between Cyrano and de Guiche is brilliantly staged. Vuillermoz gives a multi layered, very nuanced performance. When he woos Roxanne in disguise (she thinks he is Christian) in Act 3 he bares his soul, and pours out dizzying, rapturous, lyrical poetry.

In Act 4 Cyrano has much fun, in disguise (with a commedia dell Arte mask), distracting de Guiche, pretending to be a philosopher and inventor who has fallen from the moon. The final act in the convent years later is heart-breakingly staged.

Our heroine Roxanne is captivatingly played by Francoise Gillard. Gillard’s Roxanne is beautiful and intelligent, teasing, playful and kittenish, yet our steel underneath.

In the first three acts she is like a Klimt painting. In Act 3, in the famous balcony wooing scene, she is magical and appears to ‘float’ while falling in love with Christian. In Act 4 she is rather tomboyish in a practical leather jumpsuit like outfit. In Act 5,she is rather forbidding with her widows weeds and her severe hairstyle.

As Christian, tall dark and handsome,  Loic Corberry is splendid. He is tongue tied by Roxanne’s beauty and intelligence. A courageous soldier he can’t believe his luck when Roxanne begins to fall for him. Christian wants to be loved for himself and not for the poetry which Cyrano has written on his behalf.

De Guiche, a gallant and brave soldier yet who is cold and calculating, is portrayed by Didier Sandre as being distinguished and courtly. Mostly he is portrayed as rather aloof (apart from his love of Roxanne) and somewhat of an outsider to his men, until uneasily accepted at the end of Act 4.

Cyrano’s stalwart friend Le Bret was wonderfully portrayed by Stephane Varupenne.

Bruno Raffaelli has great fun playing Ragueneau, the multi – talented pastry chef .
The ensemble work is highly polished and strongly performed (the ‘We are the Gascons’ military chant in Act 2 is thrilling for example, or when the cast are the audience at the play within a play, or cheering Cyrano on in his duel).

The romance and the comedy in this production are delicately balanced to capture our hearts.

Running time allow 3 & ¼ hours including interval

Comedie Francaise’s production of  Cyrano de Bergerac is playing selected arthouse cinemas.