Sport for Jove
Corner of City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Season: 15 - 24 June (Sydney); 28 June - 1 July (Canberra); 13 - 16 September (Illawarra Performing Arts Centre)
Cyrano de Bergerac tells the story of a man who is kind, intelligent and romantic, and has an exorbitantly proportioned nose (it's real big). Thanks to some nifty prosthetics, Damien Ryan dons the nose to undertake the role, attempting to woo the beautiful and intelligent Roxane, played by Lizzie Schebesta. Roxane meanwhile falls in love with the handsome yet dim witted Christian, played by Scott Sheridan. Cyrano and Christian join forces to become the ultimate romantic man, using Cyrano's wits and Christian's dapper looks. Of course, nobody can really win in this situation.
Damien Ryan has invested himself in virtually every aspect of this production - between adapting, directing and playing the lead role, who knows if he ever sleeps. Naturally, the show has his signature stamp over the whole thing, with a bustling ensemble, delightful spectacle and very welcome contemporary touches that add humour and engagement. Sword fight scenes, with the fight choreography by Scott Witt, are highly impressive, including complicated footwork and a genuine element of surprise.
While I enjoyed watching the show, I didn't quite connect to it at the same level as many others apparently did. To me, the whole concept reeks of 'nice guys' complaining that they always get stuck in the friend zone even though they're SO NICE, while girls always stupidly go for guys that treat them badly, or have muscles or something. The premise relies on Roxane's judgement being too clouded by Christian's ravishing appearance for the majority of the play for her to be able to make a good decision. Roxane knows Cyrano very well; they have a long and deep relationship. I don't buy that she needed to hear his sentiments through an aesthetically-pleasing mouthpiece to fall in love with him. In real life, if a woman doesn't want to be in a relationship with a 'Cyrano', it's because she actually doesn't want that. It's not because she isn't capable of making a decision for herself. The fact that Roxane is supposedly a highly competent woman only heightens the play's condescension of women on the whole - if even a highly intelligent woman is so easily fooled, there's no way an average woman could possibly make proper decisions for herself. Of course, these are issues with the play rather than Sport for Jove's production per se. Ryan has opted to stage the show for a second run, due to its persisting contemporary relevance - but to whom is it relevant? A lot of people have loved the show, in its previous season it won multiple Sydney Theatre Awards. At its core, it didn't resonate with me.
The play is very long. In spite of it being shortened from the original, it's difficult to ever justify a 3 hour long play. As much as the language and poetry is sincerely beautiful and wonderfully delivered by Ryan, I couldn't help but think that the same message could be communicated more succinctly and therefore engage more effectively.
This production of Cyrano de Bergerac speaks into ideas of self-doubt, authenticity in relationships, insecurity and prevailing love. I think these aspects emanating from both Ryan and Sheridan's performances connect well with audiences, evoking deep emotional responses and engaging the romance, idealism and tragedy of the story. Perhaps I'm cynical, but it didn't quite affect me in the same way. Theatre is open for the viewer's interpretation and we can't expect every audience member to respond in the exact same way - in fact it would be terribly dull if that were our reality. In this vein of thought, it's unrealistic to assume that a 'universal man' can embody the fears and desires of every human being. Maybe it's not only a big nose that can get in the way of big love.