Edmond Rostand (1868-1918) is chiefly remembered for the ‘heroic comedy’ Cyrano de Bergerac, his thrilling verse play based on the life of a 17th-century Gascon to whom he gave legendary status. This play, which opened in Paris in 1897, has remained uninterruptedly in the international repertoire ever since. Derek Mahon’s version was commissioned by the National Theatre, London.
Cyrano, poet and swordsman, is a distinguished character famous for his panache but at odds with life because of his ludicrous nose. Reluctant, through fear of ridicule, to declare his love for Roxane, he does so indirectly, precipitating a lyrical adventure. Romantic and magical, Cyrano is Rostand’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’, its protagonist a creature of fairy tale, though his alienation is not without contemporary relevance.