7 Min Read

Let Love Win: Cyrano

Virginia Gay’s retelling of the French play Cyrano de Bergerac deserves to be watched and watched again.

Set within a crumbling theatre, the story is presented in a very meta way that continuously references theatre conventions, the original Cyrano text, and the fact that all of this is happening in a theatre with an audience present (Yes, us!).

A Chorus (Greek, French or otherwise) made up of Holly Austin, Zenya Carmellotti and Robin Goldsworthy drives this metanarrative by debating what should happen and which direction the show should go in. One of them wants to reinforce the play’s metaphors while the other wants to stay true to the original tragedy of the play. The trio interact with Cyrano like physical realisations of her racing mind. They reveal her insecurities and doubts but also barrack for her and aide her in finding the solutions to her problems.

Cyrano written by Virginia Gay after Edmond Rostand. Photography by Daniel L Grant.

In Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano, there is an extensive list of side characters (including villains) who operate outside of the play’s iconic love triangle. This love triangle broke its own conventions, with two rivals coming together to form what they deem to be the ‘ideal man’ who possesses both brains and beauty, in order to woo their love. In this version, Virginia has opted to focus on the love triangle between Cyrano, Roxane and Yan (f.k.a Christian), eliminating the lengthy list of other characters in favour of the Chorus.

The chaos that ensues from this love triangle remains somewhat true to the original and its origins remain the same. Cyrano is convinced she has a big nose and allows this insecurity about her appearance to hijack her confidence and self-worth. However, she has an innate ability to dazzle people with her words which far surpasses the skills of an average person. Meanwhile Yan (Joel Jackson) is a certified hottie but cannot verbally express himself in the same way that Cyrano can. They share a mutual love of Roxane who is perfect both inside and out. Neither Yan nor Cyrano are confident in their own abilities to win over Roxane, so they agree to feed Cyrano’s captivating words through Yan. That’s enough plot spoiling for now…

Cyrano written by Virginia Gay after Edmond Rostand. Photography by Daniel L Grant.

Director Sarah Goodes has unlocked the fantasy of this production, allowing the comedy and heart to shine through with moments that sometimes feel like they’ve stepped out of a romcom or Disney movie. (Such as the love interest beautifully gliding around the stage on roller-skates when first introduced.) In saying that nothing is cheesy or cliché, instead these moments are clever and often take an unexpected route.

As the show progresses pockets of unexpected magic also emerge from the set, conceptualised, and designed by Elizabeth Gadsby, realised by Jo Briscoe. It initially presents as a rather unassuming theatre stage featuring some road cases and a piano, the only unusual thing being a decaying proscenium arch. As we delve into the story some set elements transform entirely to become new pieces that suit the show’s more fantastical moments.  

Paul Jackson’s lighting design is very considerate of the show’s mix between tones of realism, changing subtly during the self-aware conversations versus the more dream-like world that Cyrano enters when around Roxane. There are some visually gorgeous moments, such as a beam of light shining onto Cyrano’s side profile as she stands at the side of the stage, watching on at the action taking place.

Cyrano written by Virginia Gay after Edmond Rostand. Photography by Daniel L Grant.

The show is described as a love letter to overcoming isolation and bringing people together again. There’s a sense of camaraderie between the cast that makes this production all that more engaging for the audience who feels, and at times becomes, part of the show.

Virginia’s comedy loaded script, which is expertly delivered by the cast, is counterbalanced by endearing moments full of heart that further invests and envelops us into the story. There’s a point in which Cyrano says that the audience must hate her for essentially catfishing Roxanne, and although it was an undeniably weird thing to do, I understood why she did it and wanted so much for Roxanne to see that too. (Yes, I ship Roxanne and Cyrano… what’s their couple name? Cryanne? Roxanno?)

I’d be wrong not to mention that this cast further impresses us with their musical talents. Near the start of the show, they joke about the play becoming a musical or a “play with songs”, some musical haters in the audience likely shuddered at that thought but I hope they were later put at ease when they heard the beautiful sounds pieced together by musical director Xani Kolac (who also did additional composition). The cast harmonises just as well in song as they do throughout the rest of the show. Some songs are extravagant and centre pieces to scenes while at other points music is provided by Holly or Zenya at the piano adding some subtle accompaniment.

Cyrano written by Virginia Gay after Edmond Rostand. Photography by Daniel L Grant.

The Chorus has a sibling like dynamic as they squabble and try to impose their own direction onto the show. However, they’re careful to never upstage one another or become distracting while they witness what’s unfolding for Cyrano.

Joel Jackson perfectly embodies the all beauty, no brains Yan who is an undeniable bogan whipping out cans of emu export from his tradie lunch box and of course rocking a mullet. Yan has the potential to become an annoying character given his lack of worldly knowledge or ability to form a coherent sentence (when compared to Cyrano) but despite all this Joel does well to make him become a loveable person whose naivety is actually quite sweet.

Providing ultimate ‘It Girl’ vibes, Tuuli Narkle’s Roxanne is captivating and easily demonstrates why Yan and Cyrano are in love with her. Tuuli portrays Roxanne as an intelligent and quick-witted individual who sets the tone for every room she enters. To reference back to the self-awareness of the show, Roxanne reiterates that she is a fully formed person/character and we certainly see that in Tuuli’s multi-layered portrayal of her.

Cyrano written by Virginia Gay after Edmond Rostand. Photography by Daniel L Grant.

Virginia possesses the same wordsmith qualities as Cyrano, manifesting ways to describe experiences and feelings that we’ve all had but struggle to express. Her delivery of complex thoughts is straightforward, like she’s found the simplest answer to the most impenetrable puzzle. This accessibility to what she’s saying allows the messages to hit closer to home, meaning something to everyone but particularly resonating with women and queer people.

The original Cyrano ends, unsurprisingly, in immense tragedy. To the delight of everyone, this version does not follow a similar route. We’ve seen enough devastation and sadness, it’s time for joy and that’s what we’re given with an extravagant, memorable and very colourful close to the show that’s full of happiness. It’s nice to see love win.

Cyrano is a Melbourne Theatre Company production presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company and Perth Festival. It’s on now at the Heath Ledger Theatre and runs until March 5.