There’s a well-known adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It’s seldom applied to novels, or to plays. Take Rostand’s 1897 hit Cyrano de Bergerac, for example. The latest variation shows up as the opening production in Peter Rowe’s autumn season at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. Paul Sirett has updated the story to the 1960s ( the “never had it so good” era) with the nasally-challenged hero now the proprietor of a Carnaby Street men’s wear boutique.
All the music – there’s a lot of it – is of that era, and played very loud. Rox (Francesca Jackson) is being pursued by Dougie (Trevor Jary) (the de Guiche character). Dougie rather fancies himself as a band leader – in more than one way – but is less successful when it comes to a mods and rockers’ confrontation on the beach one fatal bank holiday. It is, of course, the young Italian Cristiano (Michael Woolston-Thomas) who Rox prefers.
Mark Walters has devised one of the New Wolsey’s classic bisecting semi-circles set which, with its use of steps and various things which pop up from grave-traps, makes the most of the available space and keeps the action moving (thanks also to some very slick stage-management). Peter Manchester as Cyril gives a very fine performance; you can believe in his genuine love for Rox, his own wry self-denigration and the realism with which he confronts both. Jackson looks the part but somehow fails to project the charm which attracts three such very different men.
Woolston-Thomas makes an effective contrast as the stranger in an unfriendly town sucked into situations which uktimately destroy him. It is telling that the best musical moments come from the serenade which Cyril vocalises to Crisriano’s flamboyant mime and the final hospital scene. Why on earth an ending which had so obviously held the audience’s attention and excited its sympathy then had to be wrecked by a noisy and extended pseudo-finale escapes me completely.