Monday, November 13, 2006

REVIEW: Cyrano (Project, Dublin)

Two celebrity chefs and a New York Times food critic (from Longford, no less) make up the bizarre love triangle in Barabbas update of the Cyrano de Bergerac story.

Laddish Christian (Aidan Turner) has knocked the aging superchef, Cyrano (Raymond Keane) from his perch, a TV studio-cum-kitchen, and is now wooing Roxanne, the woman the old cook secretly loves. Now, for reasons that are not at all clear, Cyrano decides to aid in Roxanne’s seduction.

Instead of the arts of courtly love, however, what Cyrano has to share are the secrets of his culinary arts, which will conquer Roxanne. And in a nice bit of re-writing, the love letters sent by the original Cyrano-disguised-as- his-rival become emails, forging a neat connection between the antique story of deception and a twenty-first century of chatrooms and fluid online identities.

Only problem is, the secrets Cyranno bestows are of a remarkably prosaic kind – seduce her with oysters and fancy white wine, is the summation of Cyrano’s first step. So why exactly does Christian – himself also a celebrity chef -- not already know this, or not have a burning opinion of his own, or indeed a clue about food?

It may be something to do with the company’s style, which remains rather cartoonish, despite the absence of red noses, but the foodie setting never quite becomes much more than a backdrop. There is plenty of chat about food, ample helpings of culinary name-dropping, but the passion for cooking never really ignites because the details are so sketchy.

On stage, food is about a specific as it gets. Produce some flour, some eggs and bottle of wine and you’ve whet our appetites. If those items then turn out to be nothing more than props, there is an unquestionable disappointment, particularly when the play is about two chefs and a food critic.

The performances were a little unsteady as of opening night. All three actors contributed at one time or another to the fun, but things were not slipping easily into place. Together they achieved some very funny moments – some early business with a hidden microphone was excellent – but the energy too often dissipated, rather than adding to the momentum.

This sticky progress was exacerbated by elements of the plot that didn’t quite add up, while some of the multimedia elements were far enough from breathtaking as to be adjacent to superfluous. All of which gave an odd sense of making the best of a bad situation, as though some theatrical chef were quickly trying to save a sauce that had cracked.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kelly Campbell's Nose

It is eight years since Kelly Campbell almost appeared on stage with Barabbas theatre company. Back then, the actress went through all the rehearsals for a show called Brilliant Day’s Blue, which was due to go on at the Abbey, only to be scrapped when Ben Barnes took over as artistic director. Now, all these years later, she is finally due to make her debut with the company renowned for its “red nose” productions, which brought clowning to new artistic heights in Ireland.

But in the way you can never stand in the same stream twice, you certainly can’t perform with the same company after eight years. The Barabbas of old, and its reservoir of red noses, has gone. “Yes, the company has changed a lot,” says Campbell of a realisation that came to her early in rehearsals for Cyrano, Barabbas’ updated, green-screen multimedia version of the old story of true beauty that lies within.

“I had thought it would be clowning and red noses until about the third day of rehearsals when I turned to [director] Veronica [Coburn] and said ‘so this is how it’s going to be’.”

For her new version of the Cyrano de Bergerac story, Coburn and company have shifted the action to the present day and set it in the milieu of celebrity chefs. Rozanne (played by Campbell), the shared object of affection from two famous cooks, is now a New York Times food critic.

Updating the show has also involved getting familiar with the “Star Wars” school of acting, in which the performer has to imagine much that will be digitally superimposed “on the night”.

“A lot of the show will be done with green-screen and virtual sets, so for the moment we can’t really see how it will all look. We can only really see big blocks on which things will appear later. For the moment, we can only imagine how it all fits together.”

Since her aborted Barabbas debut, Campbell has been a regular on the Abbey stage and part of the cast of Batchelor’s Walk, for which she recently completed filming on the Christmas special. “It was a funny kind of reunion, coming back together after three years. I think it was a reluctant projection for a lot of people. They were hesitant to bring back something that was so much ‘of its time’. But it really felt like slipping into old shoes…”

She has also recently finished shooting an upcoming series, Kingdom, for ITV, in which Stephen Fry stars as a neurotic Norwich solicitor and Campbell plays a mysterious visitor from Ireland. “They’ve filmed six parts already and, if all goes well, there will be another series after that. That’s the plan at least.”

In the meantime, Campbell is also involved on the management side. She is part of the team that run the revitalised Bewley’s Café Theatre, a labour of love, for which she has at one time or another acted, written, directed, designed lighting, designed graphics, taken production photography and produced. For once, however, these days job is as much about keeping the crowds down as getting them in.

“The fire officers have been very strict with Bewley’s – I suppose because of its location. So now we absolutely must keep the number down to 50 people.”

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