Where the two versions differ is in the portrayal of the protagonist. The villain in the animated movie is the Russian mystic Rasputin who uses magical powers to curse the Romanov family, and whose minion sidekick is the albino bat Bartok. With an obvious nod to old Disney movies, the Rasputin is a dead ringer for the evil Jafar in the film Aladdin and also reminiscent of the Evil Queen from Snow White. By contrast, the musical version of Anastasia is more political and realistic. The protagonist is Gleb Vaganov, a Boshevik general whose father was tasked with shooting the Romanov family. When he learns that Anastasia might be alive, Gleb feels obligated to finish the job.
You know you are in for something different when you first walk into Crow’s Guloein Theatre and see stadium seating along all four walls of the space, and a table with headsets, microphones and laptops in the middle of the floor (stage) surrounded by see-through barricades. Three actors approach the table and proceed to give a modern-day “newscast” recapping Caesar’s exploits and military victories, setting up the situation at the start of the play. Following what now seems to be a common practice, the cast members of Julius Caesar are dressed in modern attire as opposed to togas and sandals, and they carry pistols which are use to assassinate Caesar, as opposed to daggers. The civil war that results after Caesar’s death is depicted with soldiers decked in camouflage outfits, guerrilla warfare tactics, machine guns and drone strikes.
I often have trouble understanding the flowery, archaic dialogue and terminology used by Shakespeare, so having all the characters ambiguously dressed, with colour-blind and gender-blind casting as well as some actors playing multiple roles, added to my general confusion over who was who and what was happening. It helped that I read the synopsis and some of the actual text of the play prior to seeing the show. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to get through the entire work. Regardless, I was impressed by this production and the passionate acting by the characters who sometimes stood so close to us that we could see them spit as they enunciated.
Like in Julius Caesar, once again the conceit of anachronistically dressing period characters in modern clothing is used in this stripped down version of the play. But what made this production interesting was the lack of a large prosthetic nose on McAvoy’s face, as well as no dueling swords despite an extended dueling scene. Cyrano’s nose is left up to the imagination and Cyrano fights his duels using razor-sharp rap poetry in an epic rap battle that involves both verbal and physical thrusts and parries, but with microphones in hand as opposed to swords. In fact, hip hop music and rapping are used throughout this play in an interesting new take on an old tale.
This screening of the National Theatre play was broadcast live across the U.K. via satellite which unfortunately resulted in the sound and visual occasionally cutting out, as well as microphone feedback and poor sound quality. It was nearly impossible to hear what was being said when any of the characters spoke softly, which Cyrano does on multiple occasions. This detracted from what was otherwise a good production.
- Read the Wikipedia entry for the plot/synopsis of the musical Hamilton
- Listen to the cast recording on Youtube ...
- ... while following along with the lyrics, since some of the rap sequences are sung so rapidly (and occasionally with a heavy French or British accent) that it is near impossible to discern what is being conveyed
- If there is time, review the Wikipedia entry on the biography of Alexander Hamilton