This autumn, Edwin Morgan’s wickedly funny translation of Cyrano de Bergerac will be revived in a new co-production by National Theatre of Scotland, Citizens Theatre and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh. Here, Professor John Corbett explores the Glasgow-Scots at the heart of the play.
Of all the objects of desire that populate Cyrano de Bergerac – from the passionate love triangle of Cyrano, Roxane and Christian, to Ragueneu’s perfect pastries – the most intense ardour is reserved for the language itself. Cyrano’s rhetoric displays his fantastic imagination, his bravado, his camaraderie, his contempt for cowards, fools and hypocrites, his self-disgust, and his yearning for the unattainable Roxane. And it is his language that ultimately wins her love.
In the translation by Edwin Morgan, who was, of course, a civic bard before he was a national makar, Cyrano’s language is rooted firmly in the rhythms and idiom of Glasgow, though it ranges beyond its origins, cadging words and phrases from elsewhere, whilst peppering the audience with pop cultural references to such as Gucci, Rambo and the Body Shop. But, at heart, the play is in Glaswegian, and Morgan’s use of the patter proves it capable of those things we knew it could do well, but also those perhaps we didn’t. Naturally, Cyrano’s Glaswegian does gallus invective beautifully, drawing on old flyting traditions to skewer whatever opponents get in his way, like the Troublemaker who, warily, says of his enormous nose ‘it’s wee, it’s toty’. Cyrano explodes into an ecstatic rage:
Ya snubby-honkered bap-faced nyaff, this thing
Ah cairry is a thing Ah’m proud tae sing,
For a big nose is ay a sign o wan
That’s kind and croose and guid tae ivrywan,
Witty and free, no yella – jist like me!
But Morgan’s Glaswegian also does pathos and flirtatious lyricism, as when Cyrano, impersonating Christian, speaks from his place of concealment to Roxane on her balcony:
You see the bleckness of a lang-tailed coat,
Ah see the whiteness of a simmer dress;
Ah’m but a shedda, you are aw brightness.
Minutes oota life! Ye’ll nivir know how rerr!
If Ah wis eloquent at times…
To which Roxane can only reply, ‘Ye were, ye were!’ Edwin Morgan’s translation of Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the great dramatic showcases for Glasgow Scots. Like the citizens of Morgan’s home city, the characters in the play are all performers, revelling in a full-throated wit, and combining chest-thumping audacity with tenderness and vulnerability.
But it’s their language you will ultimately fall for. Take your seats and prepare to be seduced.
A vivid and completely joyous event, Cyrano de Bergerac will be a celebration of theatre itself. The co-production will tour to Tramway 1 – 22nd September, The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh 12 October – 3rd November, and Eden Court 7 – 10 November. Book your tickets here.
Blog written by John Corbett – a CAPES International Fellow and Visiting Professor at the University of Sao Paulo.