Jelena Sofronijevic reviews

National Theatre Live: Cyrano de Bergerac


James McAvoy has stamina in Jamie Lloyd’s tenacious, lively and vibrant rendition of Cyrano De Bergerac. After first seeing it - albeit with an obstructed view - at the Playhouse Theatre in London, I was lucky enough to see it for a second time in Edinburgh, at the National Theatre Live screening at the Festival Theatre.

I was even more entranced upon a second viewing. Taking centre stage, McAvoy offers an angry yet emotional rendition of the famed 17th century poet. Undoubtedly too attractive for the role, McAvoy’s use of pace is almost faultless. But it is the flourishing moments of sensitivity which really steal the show. We empathise with Cyrano, we despair of Cyrano and we fall in love with Cyrano, all in the space of three hours. Indeed, his is not the sole memorable performance. Anita-Joy Uwajeh holds her own as Roxane, matching McAvoy’s pace and even reaching higher. Her performance is funny and relatable, bringing the audience on side. By the end of the production, it is her we are rooting for.

Supported by an exceptionally talented ensemble cast, the play is fresh and exciting. Rather than the 17th century verse of the original rendition, Martin Crimp’s script is modern and accessible: a delight for current audiences. Prior to this production, spoken word was not something I would have bought into, but this production of Cyrano De Bergerac has successfully persuaded me of its wealth of virtues.


Reviving Rostand’s nineteenth-century romance with streetwear and slam poetry skirmishes, director Jamie Lloyd might be (wrongly) accused of a shallow bid at wokeness. Clichéd beatbox aside, Lloyd’s stylistic choices rather amplify the words of Martin Crimp’s thrilling new adaptation.

Without the traditional seventeenth-century staging and costume, our attention focusses on the poetry and delivery. James McAvoy doesn’t need to sport a false appendage – endless teasing suffices to suggest of his enlarged (Cyra)nose. Soutra Gilmore’s sets are equally sparse, hardly containing McAvoy’s mighty renditions. Duelling in verse (versus Valvert), he transforms his microphone cord into a skipping rope, a whip, a soundwave reverberating between the pine box walls. At other times, dark settings and the use of a singular mirror reflect Cyrano’s own introspective nature, vulnerable and self-conscious. And no more than four plastic chairs situate Cyrano-Christian-Roxane’s hilarious blind date, De Guiche’s (Tom Edden) indecent proposals, and McAvoy’s sensual address.

Much is said without physical interaction. Though they remain quite separate, we know that Cyrano has grabbed Roxane (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) by her whimpering plea. The finale is suitably climatic, without the need for McAvoy to swoon, or lay outstretched. When Cyrano demands isolation in order to create, the large ensemble turn their backs in unison; he is left in their overwhelming company, and yet utterly alone.

With microphone stands and minimal staging, Jamie Lloyd’s Cyrano de Bergerac swaps panache for pure poetry.

Cyrano de Bergerac was screened at the Festival Theatre on 9 February 2020.