1. MTC's Cyrano cast on stage
    Photograph: Jeff Busby
  2. MTC's Cyrano cast on stage
    Photograph: Jeff Busby
  3. MTC's Cyrano cast on stage
    Photograph: Jeff Busby
  • Theatre


Virginia Gay gives a joyous performance in this gender-flipped retelling of Edmond Rostand’s literary classic


Time Out says

We’ve all been stuck in the corner of a party trying to extricate ourselves from someone who is at great pains to tell us how brilliant they are without presenting evidence to back it up. So if someone self-identifies as a wildly witty wordsmith with a gift for composing romantic poetry, they really need to bring the swoon factor.

Heart-soaring fun is exactly what I was expecting heading into MTC’s long-delayed reimagining of French Romantic playwright Edmond Rostand’s classic 19th work Cyrano [de Bergerac]. Fronted by abundantly charismatic star Virginia Gay – so fabulous as Calamity Jane – she steps into the gender-swapped role of the poetic soldier loosely based on a real-life Libertine. She also penned this meta-textually playful re-do.

Cyrano rocks bravado, telling anyone who’ll listen how good she is at fighting and rhyming. But she’s secretly crippled by self-doubt over the much-remarked upon size of her nose, preventing her from declaring her love for similarly gifted wordsmith Roxanne, played by fast-rising First Nations star Tuuli Narkle (Mystery Road Origin).

That allows hunky fellow soldier Yan (Claude Jabbour, who popped up in Stateless alongside Cate Blanchett, Asher Keddie and Yvonne Strahovski) to muscle in, immediately capturing Roxanne’s eye. But Roxanne values thoughtful insights over action, which leads Cyrano into a spot of self-flagellation as she feels compelled to aid Yan in wooing the woman she loves.

It’s here that a creeping suspicion we’re stuck in a corner for an hour and forty minutes creeps in. Gay’s Cyrano simply doesn’t demonstrate the golden tongue we need from a hero whose words are mightier than her sword. That’s never more apparent than director Sarah Goodes’ leaden realisation of literature’s second-most beloved balcony scene after Romeo and Juliet.

Gay also demonstrates a curious disinterest in the original text’s tragicomic drama. Nothing is sacred, and slaying golden geese can inspire greatness – but as with professing your own genius multiple times, you really need to back it up if you’re going to cut great swathes of the story loose. This Cyrano feels a little too boiled to the bone, right down to Jo Briscoe’s overly simple backstage setting, labouring the vaguely realised idea that Gay/Cyrano is writing her spin on the story as we watch it unfold.

A deeply corny chorus depicted by Milo Hartill, Robin Goldsworthy and Holly Austin doesn’t help. Hartill works an increasingly excruciating line in tortured cooking metaphors. Goldsworthy keeps telling us about his detailed character work that never appears, and Austin, the best of this misjudged trio, leans heavily into overly cutesy comedy. There’s nothing much to any of them beyond telling us, over and over, how we’re supposed to feel.

It’s all so on the nose – even if Gay wisely eschews any Nicole Kidman a-la The Hours prosthetic enhancement, unlike Steve Martin and Gérard Depardieu, who went all-in in their big screen depictions of Cyrano. It doesn’t hold up to Jamie Lloyd’s National Theatre Live take staring James McAvoy, nor the recent musical-turned-movie of the same name penned by Erica Schmidt and starring her husband Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame. Where Dinklage deftly drew on his lived experience of people’s reactions to dwarfism as a smart stand-in for the show’s nose-iness, there’s little in Gay’s take that grapples with the limitation of gender constructs.

Narkle suffers from a thinly sketched role that gives Roxanne no agency, despite professing that she’s no manic pixie girl. Jabbour is similarly saddled with a lumpen role that leans far too uncomfortably on racial stereotypes. Even Gay struggles to shine in a confused work that initially sneers at musical theatre before sliding into a cheesy closing number.

Goodes delivers a mildly distracting rom-com that the opening night audience certainly lapped up, but there’s little evidence of Gay’s innately theatrical flourish. Just like Hartill’s laboured kitchen comedy, Cyrano winds up feeling underdone. Or, as Austin’s character puts it, “Too many pastries, not enough plot.”

Want more Melbourne theatre? Check out our list of the best theatre and musicals this month.


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