REVIEW: CYRANO DE BERGERAC ~ Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Cyrano’s success as plain as the nose on his face

CYRANO

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The Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre has been delighting its audiences since its launch back in 2010 by champions of Cestrian culture Chester Performs. With nine critically acclaimed productions under its belt, the open air group goes to show it only improves with age as it wows us with this year’s outstanding productions of Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Edmund Rostund’s renowned play follows the tale of the nobleman Cyrano, chief Cadet in the French army’s Gascon company and wordsmith extraordinaire who can melt or enflame a heart by merely opening his mouth; he has nevertheless afflicted by an overly large nose. Our hero’s cousin and secret love, the fair Roxanne, is smitten by a handsome but inarticulate new Cadet and so Cyrano embarks on the heart-breaking quest to woo the lady on his friend’s behalf.

Having previously written for the Grosvenor Park theatre, Glyn Maxwell makes a triumphant return with this striking, new adaption directed by Lucy Pitman-Wallace; no mean feat, with the writer having to tackle the original work’s forty three named parts – as well as a host of soldiers, courtiers, poets and more – all inhabiting five utterly different sets, from a baker’s shop to a war-zone, and somehow transform it all into twelve actors performing in one single outdoor space.

Shuffling the play’s chronology, the nun’s from Act V are ingeniously brought forward to the opening (thus seamlessly framing the plot) as they begin to recount the tale of the soldier-bard from some fifteen years before. Before long, we see the nun’s take on the roles of many of those in the story, suddenly arming themselves and donning plumed hats as they riotously merge with other figures that enter now from all directions in sumptuous period costume, along with the titular protagonist himself played by Edward Harrison. The actor’s portrayal of de Bergerac and his legendary panache is superb: sporting a stylised nose cleverly crafted from parchment covered in poetry, Harrison is charismatic, witty and collected with the most perfect theatrical timing.

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Indeed, the whole cast ought to be praised for their stellar performances, not least the nuns with their ever-changing roles; perhaps most notable amongst them being the talented twins Danielle and Nichole Bird. Many of the cast also had a chance to showcase their musical accomplishments: during a rousing and rustic Gascon anthem played to lighten all hearts before battle; Katherine Toy’s pleasing accordion interludes between and even during scenes; the emotive and truly haunting a capella chanting of what seemed to be a Latin mass during the dual between Cyrano and one hundred men, skilfully choreographed in slow motion by Sue Nash.

With actors scaling the seating and livelily interacting with audience members happily picnicking mere feet away, Cyrano de Bergerac is an outstanding performance – at times brimming with humour at others poignant and heart-rending – that is sure to thrill this summer’s theatre goers.

For more information on this or any other performance visit: http://www.grosvenorparkopenairtheatre.co.uk/

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A review (of sorts) Part II

Hillbark Players – The Merchant of Venice

Monday 24th to Saturday 29th June 2013

That feeling of being in a theatre, before it is full or after it is empty, that sense of a place waiting, of action being held back for you is a delight.  There is something special about Hillbark Players’ Merchant of Venice with its grass for a stage and woodland as a backdrop to painted scenery.

The constructed stage where a few weeks ago there was none, covered seating and not entirely unkind weather adds weight to the creative spell.

A tableau of Venice, of the bustle and confusion, the contrasts between the different factors at work opens the play.  It places us in a world at once complex and uneasy.  There’s a great deal of grace in the offering of this opening.

Shakespeare remains troubling because so rarely does he offer absolute relief.  There is so much here, not least the resistance of any temptation to provide a happy ending simply for its own sake.

If you should need a reason to depart the comfort of the house to brave the elements consider Gratiano’s delivery of this line:-

“Why should a man, whose blood is warm within, sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster”

The added drama of the wind lost to some convincing delivery by the Hillbark Players.

Portia is compelling: her initially gentle subversion of authority sits happily with her femininity.  She offers with conviction the insult to a suitor that his image is:  “A proper man’s picture.”

We are offered quick humour by an accomplished Launcelot Gobbo, the fight between aspects of his personality and cruelty of his wit at his father’s expense.

There are cultural references a plenty; the idea of Shylock’s “pound of flesh”, ancient at the time of Shakespeare’s writing and acting as a language worm through popular language and culture references as distant as the television serialisation of V.

The production satisfies our love of spectacle and shocks us with the reminder that in the complexity of both hero and villain there is no absolute; good or evil.

There sense of acceleration as the cast approaches the reveals within the plot is both well-handled and convincing.

The last image the production renders, at once both sad and beautiful, is Jessica receiving the news of Shylock’s death.

This is a great production in a fantastic setting and it runs for the remainder of this week.  Tickets are available via the Floral Pavilion Theatre 0151 666 0000 or www.floralpavillion.com  Further information is available from www.hillbarkplayers.co.uk

Beginnings and GLADFEST2013

I’ve spent a great deal of time lately thinking about how things start.

Why do some things catch in the imagination and take root?

Writing about the beginning of GladFest, a new festival for the Chester area, was incredibly exciting.  I hope at least a little of that energy crept into my blog post:-

https://chesterculture.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/dear-diary-september-means-gladfest/

But whilst I was at Gladstone’s Library this image caught my eye.

The Tin Tabernacle, reproduced courtesy of Gladstone's Library
The Tin Tabernacle; reproduced courtesy of Gladstone’s Library.

This is the “Tin Tabernacle” built 1889,  the original housing for Gladstone’s collection of books.  It was a beginning, a short distance from the current library building.

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Gladstone’s Library. 10th June 2013. 

There is a special energy in beginnings; a necessary creativity.  Growth of any kind needs support.

Here’s to each of you then and seeing you out and about over the coming months; taking part in and enjoying everything that goes to create Chester’s culture.