To cap it all, this play introduced the word to the English language in the first place. Panache meant literally 'the plume in a musketeer's hat' in the days of real-life soldier-poet Cyrano de Bergerac. Edmond Rostand's play from 1897 fictionalised Cyrano's romantic adventures and 'panache' became the flamboyant manner and reckless courage which captures the audience's heart.
Widely produced and adapted for film, musical and opera, the basic plot is well known: our dashing hero is in love with the beautiful and clever Roxanne, but is convinced she will never return his love because of his enormous nose. When Roxanne is entranced by what she sees of new cadet Baron Christian – blessed with handsome features but short on wit - Cyrano agrees to provide him with the verses that will win her heart and outwit powerful rival De Guiche.
This new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew, directed by her husband Conrad Nelson for Northern Broadsides in partnership with The New Vic, preserves the plot while refreshing the style.
McAndrew has freed herself from the stricter verse form of the original but packed her script with many delicious and witty rhymes, striking a good balance between period setting and modern sensibility. Nelson's direction maintains this balance on stage, with raucous swashbuckling and farce feeding the comedy but not undermining the romantic drama.
The director is well served by his cast in this regard. Christian Edwards plays Cyrano with conviction.
The early set piece in which he duels with the foppish Valvert while composing a ballad, his exaggerated descriptions of his nose ("Veni, vidi, vici – I came, I saw, I conker-ed") and his angry but restrained responses when his love-rival draws attention to the said nose, are very funny but also endearing. They pave the way for him to pack his powerful final scene with strong emotion.
The sometimes irrepressible Michael Hugo, playing drunken balladeer Ligniere, entertains deftly without remotely tipping us over the top.
And Francesca Mills gives us a pickpocket, baker's apprentice and nun all hugely expressive in action and voice, with a distinguishing physical feature which pleasingly (and meaningfully in the context of the play) has no bearing on her performance.
Past and present are intriguingly mixed in the music, composed by Nelson. There are traditional ballad sounds on guitar and tin whistle, and then the crazily-staged Man Who Fell From the Moon to the swing of New Orleans jazz.
There's also the lovely musicality of Welsh, Irish and Scottish accents along with the brusque northern English of the Gascon soldiers.
And there's a distinctly art deco look to the stage design. Panache!
Runs until February 25.
By John Hargreaves