The hugely successful French comedy, Edmond de Bergerac, arrived in Northampton this April – taking to the Royal stage until Saturday 13 April.
Few people know about Edmond Rostard, writer of “Cyrano de Bergerac”. I suspect this production will not change that, rightly opting for entertainment over historical accuracy. Edmond, brilliantly played by Freddie Fox, may not be ugly or as unlucky in love as his most famous creation, but his life contains many parallels, notably with his writing. The highly energetic performance from Fox was a joy to watch. Henry Goodman was similarly strong, capturing the old theatrical soul of Constant Coquelin perfectly.
I had been especially excited to see Josie Lawrence perform, so I can’t deny being slightly disappointed that she was somewhat underused, though when she was her talent shone though. There was also much to enjoy with Chizzy Akudolu’s performance; the scenes with the trap door in particular, however her voice-projection was somewhat lacking. Edmond de Bergerac is packed with theatrical jokes including those about voice and projection, which unfortunately highlighted where these techniques were lacking to an even greater extent.
Of the supporting cast, David Langham was my personal highlight, providing a highly enjoyable performance though-out in the various characters he portrayed. He would often switch characters in very quick succession. It is a credit to him that each character was instantly recognisable, whilst being at the same time completely believable. I also must commend him on probably the best impression of a steam engine I’ve seen on stage. That was a moment of genius!
In a play filled with larger-than-life characters, that were largely well realised, I found the Floury brothers, played by Nick Cavaliere and Simon Gregor difficult to enjoy. Their over-the-top mannerisms and characterisations were too much of a caricature for me to retain the suspension of disbelief. It is worth noting that the audience generally seemed to disagree with me, and their scenes were often met with a great deal of laughter.
Simon Gregor was also involved with a joke that I believe has no place in a play written in the 21st Century; is it too much to ask for us to move on from cheap laughs based on casual homophobia? It was especially disappointing as the joke in question involved a truly wonderful piece of physical comedy after the ‘punchline’.
My largest issue with the show, however, is the running time. At two and a half hours including a short interval, perhaps it would have been wiser to ignore the methods employed by its play-writing protagonist and avoid the temptation to include additional acts. Several scenes were unnecessary, or simply too long. Throughout the play we didn’t need to hear the contents of the entire pile of love letters between Edmond and Jeanne to understand what was included in them all; the same should be considered when editing a script.
That said, I enjoyed the night overall with many moments that were very funny, some excellent performances, well-executed scene changes, great lighting and a well-designed set. The costumes were an absolute delight, not to mention the sheer quantity of quick changes the cast and crew carried out over the course of the night.
There are most of the ingredients of a fantastic play to be seen here, but it needs a little more time with its muse if it hopes to emulate the success of its inspiration.
Edmond de Bergerac runs at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 13 April, before continuing on tour. Tickets available for the Northampton run by visiting www.royalandderngate.co.uk
Performance: Tue 9 April 2019, Northampton
Megan Lucas is a theatrical Swiss Army knife, primarily known for lighting, sound and set design, she recently directed Masque Theatre’s ambitious Defying Gravity, and will soon be seen onstage, playing Delio, in Masque’s The Duchess of Malfi, and Snout in the Actor’s Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.