Love conquers all by a nose

21st May 2004 at 01:00

Catherine Wheels Theatre Company

touring until June 19

tel 0131 653 4266

Catherine Wheels Theatre Company is the high-wire act in Scottish children's theatre, up there in the searchlights, picking up awards, Broadway bookings and festival appearances for almost everything they do, making us wonder whether their fortunes would ever take a tumble.

That was particularly so when director Gill Robertson lined up Cyrano for this year's tour, making me think of Gerard Depardieu, a cast of hundreds, Gascon sword-play and life-long disappointment.

But with a flourish of a feathered, broad-brimmed hat, Robertson has produced an adaptation by the Belgian Jo Roets that wants to look no further than the love-triangle of the romantic Roxanne, the handsome but inarticulate Christian and the brave, passionate but unhandsome Cyrano de Bergerac.

This is Romeo and Juliet without the parents, and we know that before a word is spoken. As we take our seats, Cupid's hearts on the auditorium floor and furniture are gently highlighted while soft rock ballads are played.

To tour one of the world's great love stories for P5 and upwards might seem an extraordinary notion but perhaps that is because we are in danger of forgetting our 10-year-old selves. When we remember that the criticism levelled against sex education in schools since it began is that it misses out on love, the production moves from being an exotic to becoming almost a necessity, and another example of the way the arts curriculum matters to the classroom.

The upper primary classes watching at the Paisley Arts Centre were rapt by the hour of passion and poetry, comedy and drama. So too were the rest of us.

From the opening moments, when the trio of players open their gift boxes to see who has drawn the short straw - in this case, the long nose - to the last moments of Cyrano's dying, the audience is drawn, danced and dazzled through the story by the director and design team who work as one, and never better than in the moment when Roxanne (Veronica Leer) reads her first love letter, whirling to the music of ecstasy while pages become petals and the sun seems brighter.

The secret is that each member of the company, in his or her way, tells the story. Karen Tennent's harmonious set transports the trio through the action, Paul Sorley's lighting is subtle, and David Trouton's daring musical soundscape tells the time, creates the settings and colours the emotions. It is most daring when it follows the poignant death of Cyrano in Roxanne's arms with Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel", but the house lights do come up rather quickly and the wet-eyed might be grateful for the relief.

Given such a petite lover as Roxanne, and with Cyrano's warrior prowess deliberately underwritten, Ronnie Simon can be almost avuncular in his genial protectiveness, although his swordplay is flamboyant and he can quieten the audience's mocking laughter with a single frown.

Jordan Young may have the simpler furrow to plough as the honest, verbally-challenged lover but it is this very simplicity of style that helps the audience project themselves into the story.

It is a tale in which teachers and pupils will find many a moral: not to take people at face value, not to believe all you read, not to trust the officer class.

The Catherine Wheels company has its own message. The bottom line in their informative programme reads: "The message for everyone watching this play is: if you love someone, tell him or her I NOW!"

It could be a long hot summer for the P5s and upwards.

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