Cyrano de Bergerac (Chichester)

WoS rating two stars
At the end of his tenure as artistic director of the National Theatre in 2003, Trevor Nunn collaborated with Joseph Fiennes (as Berowne) on a breathtaking production of Love’s Labour’s Lost on the NT Olivier stage that played for a scandalously paltry 20 performances.

The pair’s new undertaking will be seen at Chichester only until the end of this month, but there will no similar outpouring of regret over its untimely demise. This is a lifeless Cyrano de Bergerac, with a dogged, dutiful staging on the big thrust stage that creates a certain amount of bustle – and an echo of Les Miserables at the barricades of the siege of Arras in the fourth act – but which never sparks into romantic splendour.

Partly this is to do with Fiennes’ odd decision to play Cyrano as a troubled introvert. I didn’t catch sight of the whites of his eyes all evening. And partly the show suffers from a lack of sexual or even interactive chemistry between the large-nosed poet and the beautiful Roxane, whom Alice Eve plays as a brittle, squealing little madam in bouncing blonde curls.

The 17th-century hubbub of the Paris theatre in the Hotel de Bourgogne is where Roxane casts her spell, after Cyrano has hounded a bad actor from the stage and despatched a jeering aristocrat in the course of an impromptu poetic salvo. But the bounce and brilliance of Anthony Burgess’ translation – used in the RSC’s unforgettable 1983 Terry Hands production with Derek Jacobi – is curiously muted.

Fiennes’ nose, too, is joke shop appendage, long and thin like Pinocchio’s, and clearly a different colour and texture from the rest of his face. His generosity in playing the surrogate lover for the clueless Christian de Neuvillette is compounded by the fact that the two men are much closer in age than is usual; and Stephen Hagan – last seen as the naked model for Michelangelo’s David in Antony Sher’s underrated The Giant at Hampstead Theatre – is not the usual blond nonentity, but a handsome dolt.

The elegiac beauty of the last act where a dying Cyrano visits Roxane in the convent, 15 years after the death of Christian, is robbed of poignancy by a weird lighting change, the autumnal red suddenly plunged into darkest night. Robert Jones’ raffia settings translate cleverly from the barricades to the spreading boughs of the great tree, but the tragedy of Cyrano’s unrequited devotion has long since evaporated in banality.

– Michael Coveney