Review: CANDIDA

Martin Hutson and Claire Lams in CANDIDA. Photo by Johann Persson from the Orange Tree Theatre website. CANDIDA runs at The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond until January 18th. Details and tickets here

IN BRIEF Superbly-cast and directed production maximises Shaw’s comedy of love with heart, drive and sparkle in an unmissable treat.

Passionate Socialist and practical priest James Morell’s wife Candida returns home with a romantic, unworldly young poet, Eugene in tow who she has taken under her wing. His arrival at their home causes a fundamental disturbance and testing for the priest, confusions about love, and the ultimate setting straight of the record by Candida herself. Bernard Shaw’s play is a witty examination of attitudes to love and marriage in Victorian society, as lovingly revived here by Orange Tree Artistic Director Paul Miller. This is his fourth Bernard Shaw since joining the theatre, and they just seem to get better and better.

Candida is the title and the subject of the play, but, reflecting the gender issues of Victorian society, the male characters’ ideas dominate for the majority of the play. It is only when Candida gives full voice to her feelings that we see that she holds all the power in this triangle.

Shaw lays these three characters open to us at a vulnerable time and examines their feelings, thoughts and assumptions, together with insecurities, misunderstandings and vanities. But each character holds a different vision and it is in Candida’s gift to decide the outcome.

Shaw’s writing makes us smile as he captures acutely the wildness of romantic love, as set here against the practicalities of a less lofty but innately more practical domestic love which Candida and James have collaborated upon. The discussions about love, dreams and expectations are engaging and hearty; But in many of the dialogue passages there is a currency and authenticity which reveals the craftsmanship of the writer and universality of the subject. The wit and humour make the whole sparkle and shine.

Superbly cast by Vicky Richardson and Sarah Murray, the performances are uniformly strong across the six-strong cast. The central trio of Rev. James Morell (Martin Hutson), Candida (Claire Lams) and Eugene (Joseph Potter*) are beautifully tuned.

All three are meticulously detailed performances, but Hutson is the one I couldn’t take my eyes off. His subtle shifts across a landscape of feelings, from laudable “talking machine” to passionate combatant for his own wife’s affections, his is a performance of subtlety and depth. Lams gives Candida a presence and a fully-rounded voice; the quiet, solid protectiveness of a mother and unwavering wife, not above subtly mocking the two men’s interpretation of her feelings and bringing them both sharply -but finally compassionately – to heel. It’s a performance to savour. Potter’s “great baby” Eugene is a timid volcano of emotion, endearingly unsullied by “reality” or moderation, making Candida’s indulgence and mothering of him all the more understandable. The supporting players all get the most out of the smaller roles; Kwaku Mills is enjoyably lively and light-headed as Lexy the curate; Michael Simkins is humorous, shifty and suitably shallow as Candida’s father and Sarah Middleton intermittently flares up – most enjoyably – as “typing woman” Miss Garnett.

A mention also for the spare yet very effective stage design by Simon Daw, utilising a few well-chosen furniture pieces and astutely placed printed matter of the time which gives the auditorium a nicely pulled-together feel in support of the play itself.

CANDIDA sits perfectly in the intimate, in the round space of the Orange Tree. Director Miller has given audiences the gift of an intense yet amusing and accessible classic play which feels authentic, honest and timeless. What better holiday present? Treat yourselves.

CANDIDA runs at The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond until January 18th. Details and tickets here


*Although Joseph Potter is making his professional debut with CANDIDA, I did see him giving a standout performance in the difficult lead role of Charley in Guildhall School’s graduation show this summer, Sondheim’s challenging MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. So he can sing brilliantly too – I really look forward to seeing his career trajectory.


Review: EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY

EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY plays its final performance on Saturday 10th August at 7pm at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Tickets and information here

IN BRIEF Intense black comedy dissects unrealistic expectations of modern life through detailed performances and direction

“I’m so fat”

“I’m so ugly”

“I’m so stupid”

“I’m so old”

Punched up by a throbbing light, an hypnotic barrage of negativity prefaces Declan Greene’s play which deals with the attempts of two lonely, desperate forty-somethings to find a real connection through our modern ultra-judgmental cyberworld.

Both characters have been cornered by life. She’s a nurse with a shopping addiction, a debt mountain, out of control kids and a secret fear. He’s an IT guy in a sterile marriage and addicted to online porn.  They hook up through a dating app. The audience endures with them an excruciating, conversationally-mashed meeting in a bar followed by a flailing attempt at casual sex.

His downloading of (the title’s) porn onto his work laptop get him fired and he panics, returning to her where reluctantly she gives him shelter. Through an unexpected later event they are finally able to come together at the close of the play, and for a moment at least, they can be open with one another.

Greene’s script produces laughter of many kinds, sometimes at the most unexpected times. Sometimes, it’s the laughter of recognition; there’s something here that we can all relate to, and it’s not easy. The audience I was with were vocal and up for the ride. Early on there’s a very funny but uncomfortable verbalisation of text-message foreplay with spoken punctuation, emoji-speak and time-lags played out in real time, which works really well. And occasionally, the dialogue is piercing (“Just someone”, she pleads into thin air).

Denying his characters’ right to names, Greene cuts through them, examining the layers of denial and desperation which have accumulated. Scenes in which feelings and sensations are discussed, mostly of shame and disorientation, are starkly effective.

Theatrically, the characters are isolated by space and lighting. Where the two characters do interact, their cut-aways, speaking frankly to the audience, work to draw us into their messy situations. In fact, the characters seem to talk more to the audience than each other, underlining their life in isolation, aided by the lighting design by Chris McDonell which was also amusing in its depiction of orgasm (or not), and boosted by Lex Kosanke’s sound design.

On Cory Shipp’s clever, simple set comprised of three separate spaces, we are given fragments of her backstory to put together, as Greene stokes the underlying tension. Just what is she terrified of, and why has she got £3,000 in cash in an envelope?

The climax of the play brings some apparent truth in its wake and the possibility of a little light in the midst of all this darkness. And any play with as smart a curtain line as this one is good with me.

The acting is first-rate. Cate Hamer expertly captures her character’s wrung-out desperation, living at the tips of her nerve endings, the caring part of her nature at odds with her reactions when provoked. Her backstory weights the play towards her, and her studied performance easily supports that load. Matthew Douglas charts his character’s obsession with youth and age, predatory bravado and sudden decline with skill. Both performances are enriched through Gianluca Lello’s sensitive and incisive direction.

Nobody’s perfect, as they say. But this play reminds us that the contemporary pressures to expect perfection of ourselves -and of others – are not only unrealistic but deeply self-destructive. We haven’t seen the last of Greene’s play, I am sure.

EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY plays its final performance on Saturday 10th August at 7pm at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Tickets and information here