Northern Broadsides theatre company have two enduring trademarks: use of the actors’ own natural voice, rather than an assumed accent; and singing. Both are much in evidence in their current touring production, “Cyrano”.
Starting life as “Cyrano de Bergerac”, written by Edmond Rostand in rhyming couplets in French in 1897, the story is a long way from home in the headquarters of Northern Broadsides, famously described as “a damp cellar in Halifax”. Since its origin it has been translated, rewritten and replayed many times, most impressively in the 1990 film starring Gerard Depardieu, still worth watching for its magnificent crowd scenes, though the glories of the text are “lost in translation” if you follow the sub titles (plenty of clips on Youtube. Now Deborah McAndrew has written a new version for Northern Broadsides, truncating both the title and the text, though retaining the rhyming couplets – in English.
Cyrano, who is of course from Bergerac, is captain of a military unit called the Gascony cadets, and the plot contains much French regional rivalry, but you quickly adjust to hearing this in Yorkshire accents. Who has more regional rivalry than a Yorkshireman? But I struggled with his cousin Roxanne’s broad Scottish accent: lovely voice, but somehow it didn’t fit.
And the singing? Northern Broadsides can offer music for every circumstance from earthy comedy to high tragedy, and “Cyrano” is no exception. Indeed, here the music, which can sometimes seem no more than an extra, does integrate well with the plot, as when the starving soldiers console themselves with a ballad on the lonely night before battle. Voices are not of the strongest, but that doesn’t matter.
Cyrano is a poet and swordsman with (whisper it) an enormous nose. He loves Roxanne, she loves another who has a good heart but no way with words. Cyrano supplies the words and woos her at one remove. As you might imagine, it all ends in tears. But fewer tears here than in some productions. By the end, all three protagonists have loved and lost; but all leave you with a sense of having no regrets.
Cyrano plays at York Theatre Royal until Saturday; please see Northern Broadsides website for remaining tour venues.