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.