To mount a stage production at the end of the academic year squeezed between exams/assessments and Christmas is a difficult task. To the credit of the of the Theatre Guild Student Society they have done just that with their current production of “Cyrano”. First time director Daniella Chiarolli not only had the responsibility of wrangling her production team but was also one of the cast of six. This is not an ideal set of circumstances particularly for a first time director but, to her credit, Daniella does well in both roles. I am sure she will refer back to this as a watershed learning experience and am equally sure she will have other directing opportunities come her way. I hope so!
This treatment of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” is by American playwright Michael Dalberg who has flipped Cyrano’s gender in order to look at love, desire and the complex machinations of the human heart across an inclusive spectrum. I must say, at this point, that this play was quite well received by an audience modest in size yet generous in enthusiasm. At the end of the day audience reaction is always the acid test of success. So to the play and the players. Cyrano (Imogen Deller-Evans) is totally infatuated with Roxanne (Taylor Fernandez). Her feelings are not at all reciprocated and her love languishes unrequited. Much admired for her bravery in battle Cyrano is an accomplished swordsperson. She is also a wordsmith, a lover of language and poetry and regardless of self-image and self-doubt she can light up a room with her verbal imagery. Imogen inhabits her character with ease. I have seen her before in a previous student Guild production, “A Woman of no Importance” and recall commenting favourably then on her natural stage presence. Her performance is well matched by Karma Duffield who plays the armed forces chief Montfleury. Karma also possesses a natural stage presence and is the stand-out example in the cast of six in terms of speaking out clearly and distinctly to his audience. Karma clearly articulates his character’s thoughts, motives and action. From my perspective Imogen and Karma share acting honours in this production.
Montfleury also fancies his chances of winning Roxanne but she manages to parry his advances, just! Taylor plays Roxanne with a disarming degree of innocence. She demonstrates an ability for intelligent verbal sparring in the balcony scene with both Cyrano and Christian. It is a time when Taylor comes to grips with her character and connects with us for the first time. A nicely balanced performance. This is probably the best segment in the play as it is redolent of romantic love and the games that lovers play. Christian, played by Oswin Kwan, is a rather nebulous character easily manipulated by all and sundry. Apart from his dashing looks it’s hard to see how Roxanne can be drawn to him at all. Similarly the character Ligniere (Naomi Lawson) seems an ill-defined friend of Christian who serves as a conduit for some of the actions and reactions that occur. As a first-time performer Naomi took a while to find her feet on stage but I hope she and Oswin both, will gain encouragement from this experience. As noted above, director Daniella plays Donna, a chorus like muse for both Cyrano and Roxanne. She also demonstrates a feel for her audience by speaking up and out. That’s my second reference to those all important components of articulation and projection. Too often in this play individuals gabble their lines with little deference to either the character being portrayed or to their audience wanting to hear and comprehend.
Both pace and timing went missing in act 1 but to everybody’s credit and an overcoming of initial nerves there was a marked improvement after the interval. The scene change whilst clearing the market place was long and clunky but I’m sure that has been noted! I found that the background music was a little distracting and maybe unnecessary at times? I also thought the play (as such) leaned more towards sexual innuendo and getting a response from the audience rather than being a witty exploration of the courage it takes to meaningfully connect with another regardless of age, stage, gender identity or sexual orientation. In my opinion opportunities were missed by the writer of this piece to make messages more powerful and memorable. Having said that I hastily repeat the comment I started with, that there was a positive reaction from an appreciative audience. So to first time director Daniella Chiarolli, her (mostly) inexperienced cast and her production crew my congratulations. I do hope I see you all again.