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: WHILE THE SUN SHINES

“John Hudson as Horton the butler is a model of unflappable diligence “. Photo courtesy Orange Tree website

IN BRIEF Rattigan’s joyfully racy wartime comedy shines brilliantly in Paul Miller’s polished and perfectly cast production.

Wartime creates strange bedfellows – both literally and metaphorically – in Paul Miller’s polished and precise production of Terence Rattigan’s enjoyably racy wartime comedy (and biggest hit) which stands up superbly well. Immaculately cast across the board, this production is perfectly pitched, paced and played thanks to Miller’s detailed direction.

When Bobby, Earl of Harpenden, rescues Joe, a US lieutenant, from a London pavement and takes him home to sleep off his drunkenness, he sets in motion a train of events that threaten his impending marriage to Lady Elizabeth the following day. Misunderstandings abound as Elizabeth’s surprise visit to her fiancée leads Joe to think she is good time girl Mabel Crum, Bobby’s ex. He falls for her, and the somewhat inexperienced Elizabeth is swept off her feet. But Elizabeth has yet another admirer waiting in the wings – a Free French lieutenant who she met on a train, intent on declaring his “white hot” love for her. The ensuing action revolves around a five-way emotional tug of war, somewhat hampered by Mabel, the “other woman” and the interjections of Elizabeth’s cash-strapped windbag of a father, the Duke.

“Adorably puppyish” Philip Labey as Bobby. Photo courtesy Orange Tree website

Rattigan gleefully celebrates this new liberation of attitudes as normality gets chucked out of the window. The play constantly flirts with anti-convention, just as in real life people flirted with death on a daily basis.

Rattigan’s craftsmanship in writing (so often seen in his dramas but less often in comedies), together with a finely tuned ear for absurdity or a twist of phrase all works to bring the show fully to life, flying through its running time. The script is democratic in playfully ribbing all national types in the Alliance- the mild-mannered Englishman, the brash American, the excitable Frenchman – to telling effect.

As to the uniformly top-notch performances, Dorothea Myer-Bennett is acute and deliciously droll as Mabel Crum, the self- confessed “trollop for men”, with a delightfully knowing vocal delivery.

Michael Lumsden as the Duke channels the bluster of Nigel Bruce (Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes classic movies of the 40s) for a beautifully rounded comic turn, his asking (in his all too literal French) the Frenchman to play dice – inadvertently sexually propositioning him – was a particular highlight at which the audience roared.

Michael Lumsden as The Duke, “a beautifully rounded comic turn”. Photo courtesy Orange Tree website

Jordan Mifsud as the combustible Frenchman Colbert racks up another Orange Tree success after his (also explosive) performance in Shaw’s MISALLIANCE at the end of 2017.

Philip Labey is adorably puppyish and charmingly mild-mannered as Bobby, cheerfully bearing the load of the early (lengthy) dialogues. Sabrina Bartlett is a young and impressionable Elizabeth, understating her drunk scene to great comic effect. Julian Moore-Cook gives Joe an attractive edge and a potent baritone, and John Hudson as Horton the butler is a model of unflappable diligence in the midst of the challenges encircling him. Each is a faultless, well-turned and detailed performance.

Sabrina Bartlett (Elizabeth) and Julian Moore-Cook (Joe) .”well-turned and detailed performances” Photo courtesy Orange Tree website

Simon Daw’s economical but evocative set lends just the right tone and makes the most of the space.

Sadly, comedy has never been given as much credence as drama, yet it takes more skill to write and to play. This beautifully-crafted, irresistible diversion must have been very welcome in 1943; no wonder audiences hugged it in the West End for three years. It gets no less of a reception today.

This show deserves a much longer life ahead through a UK tour. If you enjoy well-crafted performance, please hurry along to the Orange Tree by July 27th.


WHILE THE SUN SHINES plays at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond until July 27th. More information and tickets here