GT reviews a brand new production of a classic tale…
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Adapted from the 1759 book by Voltaire, this Bernstein operetta was first performed in 1956. But, despite being over half a century old, the show feels fresh and full of vigour in this seasonal presentation at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
A young man, Candide, falls in love with the local Baron’s daughter, Cunegonde. But because of his lowly status he is deemed unsuitable and banished from his home in Westphalia and forced to undergo a journey of discovery as he struggles to survive in a series of strange lands. His adventures take him far and wide, through Holland, Portugal, France, even to the New World. The narrative, as much as there is one, is fairly basic – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, boy loses girl, and so on… But the plot isn’t the point here.
As we travel from shore to shore, it’s the people that Candide meets and how they cope with what life throws at them that provide the focus. While the citizens of the world suffer through war, natural disaster, disease, and violence, we see them continually struggle to put on a brave face and force a grin – this is, after all, the best of all possible worlds…
There is a constant whirlwind of colour and sound and movement. Lively dancing and inventive set pieces accompany the impressive vocals – a sense of carnival pervades throughout. Fra Fee is perfect as Candide – the wide-eyed innocent who gets churned up in the cogs of life – and has a voice which proves that there really must be magic in the world. James Dreyfus is a delight as Dr Pangloss, Candide’s old tutor and sometimes travelling companion. Dreyfus lends an air of authority to proceedings while still managing to camp things up deliciously.
The whole cast shines, but special mention must also go to Scarlett Strallen (Cunegonde), whose phenomenal rendition of ‘Glitter and be Gay’ is surely the highlight of the evening. And we were also rather taken with a comic turn from Jackie Clune (Old Lady) and her detailed account of why she has only one buttock…
The piece is performed in the round. A clever set, complete with ladders and gangways, allows the cast to move around and behind the spectator seats, giving a real sense of immersion. One simple but cunning scene change, from public execution to high society, sees a corpse cut free from a noose and a gleaming chandelier hoisted up in its place. There’s also a moment where an actor plunges his face into an audience member’s groin – that’s close up theatre.
Glistening with wit and generally played for laughs, this is a perfect antidote to the usual panto dirge. It absolutely glitters and is most definitely gay.
GT gives this 4/5
Candide runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 22nd February 2014. More details at menierchocolatefactory.com
Words: Richard Unwin