There was a certain amount of trepidation on my part going into this production of Candide – even reading the synopsis of the 1999 National Theatre production, the one used by Sedos for their run at the Bridewell Theatre, took far longer than a synopsis ordinarily would to get through, filled with almost impenetrable detail about ‘metaphysico-theologico- cosmologico-panalogy’ (whatever that is), extremes of happiness and melancholy, and the Spanish Inquisition. I needn’t have been so concerned. On hand is Voltaire (Stephen Russell), who serves as narrator, guiding the audience through the many scenes. I do wonder, though, whether I should be concerned that the most engaging character in a musical is a non-singing role, the said Voltaire.
The choreography is rather clunky, though at least the production has the excuse that on occasion, the narrative calls for it. The music is beautiful, and a 14-piece orchestra under the steady baton of Matt Gould is flawless, matching and even surpassing many a West End band without audiences coming to this production paying anywhere near West End full box office prices.
A strong cast is somewhat let down by the slow pace of the show. The musical numbers could have been more varied in style, and the staging overall felt too conservative, more BBC rather than NT. The latter would have been visibly more risqué – here, there’s a slight over-reliance on the lyrics and book alone to depict what goes on between certain characters. Emma Morgan’s Cundegonde (the first ‘e’ is pronounced, the second not) has a lovely strong vocal, but one of her solo numbers is so repetitive it outlasted its welcome. The tune was a crowd-pleaser – who doesn’t enjoy a good belt these days? But it was one of several songs that I felt I was waiting to finish so the story could continue.
This production is so ridiculously silly that its deeper elements simply could not be taken seriously. Personally, the style of hyperbolic humour wasn’t to my liking – I barely tittered all evening – and while I thoroughly enjoyed the lampooning of organised religion, this probably had more to do with my draconian evangelical upbringing than the quality of the show. Even death scenes are trivialised, and I could not deduce whether this was a commentary or a send-up of the limitations of the theatre to stage fatalities with sufficient credibility (even if, the last time I checked, Les Miserables does two dozen or more on-stage deaths eight times a week very well indeed).
I have no intention of being a party pooper: this show is a lot of fun. In this regard, however, it becomes a victim of its own success. With the final number, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’, comes a message about making the best of our present situation, whatever that may be. A fair enough point to make, but by this stage there have been over three hours of a frivolous and borderline absurd romp through various kingdoms and oceans as Candide (a likeable Mark Siddall) repeatedly gains and loses Cundegonde. The finale therefore seems out of place. I would have thought a more fantastical ending would have been more appropriate.
Stand out performances come from Stephen Beeny’s Martin, who had the best character development in the show, and from understudy Francesca Canty’s Old Woman, a character with plenty of stories from the past to regale her younger counterparts with. All things considered, I think the show is twenty minutes too long. It’s certainly something different, though, and was mostly warmly received by the audience at the performance I attended. With wonderful costumes and sublime orchestrations, this satirical look at practically everything must not be taken too seriously.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Sedos presents: Candide
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, London EC4Y 8EQ
23 November-3 December 2016, 7.30pm, Saturday matinees 2.30pm
Saturday special gala night: Saturday 26 November 2016
Glitter and Be Gay gala night: Thursday 1 December — wear something that sparkles to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Candide’s premiere
Ticket includes a free glass of fizz, a programme and a late bar
Box office: sedos.co.uk
Candide: Mark Siddall
Cunegonde: Emma Morgan
Pangloss/Voltaire: Stephen Russell
Paquette: Kate Gledhill
Martin: Stephen Beeny
Cacambo: Peter Shimmin
Maximillian: Sam Brassington
Old Woman: Tal Hewitt (played by Francesca Canty at this performance)
Governor: Paul Cozens
Vanderdendur: Chris Starkey
Female Ensemble: Francesca Canty, Becky Chisholm, Jess Davidson, Victoria Greenway, Georgie Sheppard, Rowena Turner, Jo Webber, Laura Williams.
Male Ensemble: Nick Dore, Paul Francis, Tim Garrad, Stephen Hewitt, Ben Press.
Director: Michael Smith
Musical director: Matt Gould
Assistant director: Roger Harwood
Choreographer: Jane Saunders
Producer: Lizzie Drapper
Sedos, a registered charity with a membership of over 200, puts on six to eight shows a year. The society was founded in 1905 by senior members of the stock exchange and although the membership now includes an eclectic mix from all over London, we maintain firm links with the City.