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Review: Cyrano (New Vic Theatre)

Northern Broadsides and the New Vic Theatre join forces for this new take on Edmond Rostand's 1897 play

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The one with the nose. That is, perhaps, how Edmond Rostand's 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac is best known. And it's the first thing we see as we walk into the auditorium at the New Vic Theatre: a Pinocchio-esque silhouette projected onto the walls.

In this new co-production from Northern Broadsides and the New Vic, Christian Edwards is the nasally well-endowed hero – though his conk is modest compared to Steve Martin's in 1980s film version Roxanne. Still, it's this imperfection that holds him back from wooing Roxane (Sharon Singh), his beautiful and universally lusted-after cousin. Only when she falls for handsome but tongue-tied Christian (Adam Barlow) does Cyrano get a chance to express his feelings, writing to her in the guise of his attractive friend.

Both the strength and the weakness of Edwards' performance is that (at least when not in profile) he quickly makes us forget about what Cyrano bitterly calls his "disfigurement". The lively in-the-round staging at the New Vic puts his duelling poet firmly at the centre of proceedings, where he thrives. This Cyrano, quick with both wit and sword, is a swaggering showman. So slick with oozing charisma is Edwards' protagonist that it's a wonder Roxane – more steely determination than sighing beauty in Singh's performance – spends longer than five minutes swooning over shy and dim Christian.

Conrad Nelson's production nudges the central narrative along with plenty of music and ribaldry. This is broad brushstrokes stuff, especially when it comes to the vast ensemble of local poets, soldiers and actors, but playful with it. The show is at its best when it doesn't take itself too seriously. As musicians glide on wearing masks, or bakers pirouette through clouds of flour, there's an enjoyably conspiratorial sense of "we all know this is silly, but let's play along".

But the production, like bumbling Christian, begins to stutter when things get serious. It's tough to craft a version of Rostand's play that both preserves the verse and has a more contemporary kick to it. Adaptor Deborah McAndrew has fun with innuendos and unlikely rhymes in the comedy sequences, but her script is bumpier in moments of passion and grief. And the ensemble, having pushed the comedy with so much gusto, are less compelling when straight-faced.

This all plays out on Lis Evans' distractingly decorative set. Especially in this in-the-round configuration, the patterned floor and dangling accessories add little to either staging or meaning. The production would do better to strip back the design and trust in Daniella Beattie's lighting, which already does gorgeous sculptural and atmospheric work. Less, in this case, would certainly be more.

Anyone hoping for a bold new take on Rostand's tale of unrequited love will be disappointed. But then Northern Broadsides aren't looking to break apart or reinvent. Instead, they bring simple storytelling and song to a well-worn narrative, reanimating it for a new set of audiences. It's a good enough objective for a company, though while watching I couldn't help but yearn for slightly higher theatrical ambitions. Ultimately, this Cyrano could do with a bit more of its hero's defining quality: panache.

Cyrano runs at the New Vic Theatre until 25 February 2017.