The Royal Exchange had a huge hit last year with their adaptation of the classic Harvey. The combination of Ben Keaton's delightful performance and Greg Hersov's inventive direction had yet to be bettered at this venue, until now.
Adapted by Anthony Burgess, this tale follows the larger than life, charismatic swordsman, Cyrano. Big hearted and deeply romantic he may be, but one thing holds him back; his big nose. "One could launch ships from that peninsula" is one of many taunts that the hero has to bear. He fights back with action and words. To get closer to the beautiful Roxanne he decides to help his handsome friend by penning poetry to his true love. "Your lips, my soul" he says.
Hersov says the play "has a special magic that has stood the test of time.”
It certainly has and there is so much to recommend about this sublime production that it's hard to know where to begin.
The affection with which this is performed and directed involves the audience at every turn. The famous balcony scene is given dynamic zest as Roxanne (Jessica Oyelowo) runs past audience members to hear her love. Other added twists include cast members chatting to the unsuspecting crowd before the play has started, providing a real sense of gay abandon.
Of the performers, Jonathan Keeble is simply wonderful as the jealous baddie De Guiche; his deadpan delivery is delicious. Oliver Chris from the TV show Green Wing also has great comic timing as Christian, the “non entity with the pretty face.” Oyelowo's heroine is feisty, enigmatic and very appealing. Likewise Keaton’s scene stealing turn is a joy to behold. The heart breaking denouement is given real light and shade thanks to his emotive performance.
Rae Smith’s simple but cold set design recreates war in the round, which, along with David Holmes’ brilliant lighting, compliments the piece. Renny Krupinsky’s fight scenes challenge the actors, giving the play the pace it needs.
As a result this fantastic production rattles along at breakneck speed. The audience on the night I went cheered it to the rafters. Hersov’s Cyrano is moving, hilarious, beautifully performed and utterly irresistible. Of all the Christmas productions on in Manchester, this one wins by more than a nose.