PARIS-born playwright Alexis Michalik’s play Edmond De Bergerac is itself a play-on-a-play.
The ‘Edmond’ in the title is a play on Edmund Rosland who wrote perhaps the most famous of all French plays namely ‘Cyrano De Bergerac’. Confused? Well, put all that to one side and just enjoy this majestic romp as I did.
Edmond is played with charm and charisma by Freddie Fox – he is a writer in late 18th century Paris where writers are the rock gods of the day.
He is also desperately in need of a hit but is in the grip of the dreaded ‘writer’s block’.
As the play opens, we witness his latest failure.
His inspiration for a new play comes from writing love letters for his actor pal to the woman he woos but lacks the words with which to woo her – and so in Edmond’s mind Cyrano is unleashed.
The plot twists and turns but always entertains, the characters are witty, whacky and wonderful.
Roxana Silbert directs with love and passion, she has an eye for spectacle and tops one spectacular applause-worthy moment with another.
This is her last production at the Birmingham REP and it’s one she will be remembered for long after her departure as the REP’s artistic director.
Silbert has assembled a hugely talented cast that fulfil a multitude of roles; outstanding are Josie Lawrence as Sarah Bernhardt, Robin Morrissey as Leo, David Langham as George Feydeau, Gina Bramhill as Joanne and Chizzy Akudolu as Maria.
Magical moments include a breathtaking stunt as a plucky Leo clutches to the top of a full-size ladder as it tumbles 180 degrees during a romantic balcony scene which ends badly – half theatre, half circus, it is awesome. So too is the end of Act One where the cast form a human train with suitcases to take us off on a railway journey – simple but oh so effective.
Designer Robert Innes Hopkins has done his work brilliantly adding a generous smattering of magic dust.
Just as this is a play-within-a-play-within-a-play, so his set is a stage-within-a-stage-within-a-stage.
As we enter the auditorium, we are greeted with an ornate red and gold proscenium arch and a row of oyster footlights.
It shouts Paris and decadence.
When the curtain rises there is another pros arch and another stage at the rear with a huge acting area in between.
On either side are two looming structures which become theatre boxes, doors, windows, balconies, a hotel – and at one point, the Moulin Rouge.
No wonder this play has taken Paris by storm in its original language and in this excellent translation by Jeremy Sams, Roxana Silberts’ UK premiere will undoubtedly achieve the same following over here.
The word ‘triumph’ has never been more appropriate – see it first in Birmingham before it surely heads to the West End.
Review by Euan Rose.