CANDIDA by Bernard Shaw at Orange Tree Theatre | Review

Martin Hutson and Claire Lams in CANDIDA - Orange Tree Theatre - photo by Johan Persson.
Martin Hutson and Claire Lams in CANDIDA – Orange Tree Theatre – photo by Johan Persson.

In 1894, the much respected Irish playwright, and staunch socialist, George Bernard Shaw debuts his play, Candida, to a Victorian era audience. It is a play about a love triangle that develops between a clergyman, his wife and a poet. Initially, not well received, it went on to gain great popularity and was performed at The Royal Court Theatre in the early 1900s and enjoyed many revivals thereafter.

Now, more than a century later, we are experiencing a revolution in transgender and non-binary identities which have already toppled traditional concepts of male and female behaviours in matters of love. So in 2019, how do we unravel the politics of a love triangle played out in an ‘all’s well that ends well‘ fashion.

No, it’s not possible to think of Candida outside of a political framework because it is a six-character comedy drama enacted within a stage setting surrounded by massive reprints of socialist commentary – actual headlines and editorials concerning social reform and workers’ rights lifted from daily broadsheets, circa 1894 (Designer Simon Daw). Even the floor the actors tread upon is a vinyl expanse of black and white newsprint, so Shaw’s urge to use theatre as a political platform is ever present.

Perhaps, as a discourse of sexual politics, Candida purports to highlight Woman as an object of desire for men, but never as a flesh and blood creature with her own divine right of passage. But while Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, written during the same era, creates characters who fit easily into 2019, Shaw’s characters – overblown, affected and superficial – do not. It is a directorial problem that Paul Miller manages to circumvent in having actors who perform brilliantly, even if their dialogue is splattered with overly dramatised speech.

Each of Candida‘s characters are influenced by the persona of the dogmatic presence of Reverend James Morell (Martin Hutson), beautifully realised by Hutson as a morally self-righteous Christian Socialist, quick to anger and even quicker to use his fists (superb talents of Fight Director Sam Behan).

Candida (Claire Lams), Morell’s wife, is a somewhat cruel and flirtatious woman who toys with the feelings of the men around her. But Morell views her as a near religious object – a pure and virtuous woman with no desire for satisfaction outside the bonds of their relationship. His convictions are overturned when he is challenged by the verbose young poet Marchbanks (Joseph Potter) who wishes to rescue Candida from a life of marital waste. It is in her treatment of Marchbanks, that Candida’s selfishness comes to light.

Add to this mix a more relaxed member of clergy, Reverend Alexander Mill (Kwaku Mills), with a humorous penchant for a late lie-in; Mr Burgess (Michael Simkins), Candida’s blustery entrepreneurial father; and the outspoken Proserpine Garnett (Sarah Middleton), secretary to Morell and affectionately referred to as Prossy.

Morell is blindly unaware that Prossy is wildly in love with him, while for the passionate teen-age Marchbanks and the wily Candida, Prossy’s love for Morell is blatantly obvious. Which highlights the character flaw Morell must grapple with; human desire is all around him, more potent than any sermon he could preach, whether the topic be christianity or social justice, yet he fails to realise the power of it.

Although the play concerns itself with the wonky love triangle between Candida, Morell and Marchbanks, it is Prossy, with her no-nonsense approach, personal dignity and courage to speak the truth who is free from Victorian repression and restraint. If any of Candida‘s characters fit comfortably in a post-feminist 21st Century, it is the delightful and irrepressible Ms Proserpine Garnett.

We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.

Eugene believes in love, free-thinking and liberation: James in social justice for all and conventional married life for himself. Candida believes in her own strength and her right to run her life as she wants.

A young man with the soul of a poet clashes with a popular Socialist preacher and threatens his domestic happiness. Only Candida can decide who is the stronger – and who’s to be the winner.

A passionate power struggle is played out in one of Shaw’s most enduring and witty plays.

Do you think that the things people make fools of themselves about are any less real and true than the things they behave sensibly about? They are more true: they are the only things that are true.

CANDIDA
by Bernard Shaw
Cast Martin Hutson, Claire Lams, Sarah Middleton, Kwaku Mills, Joseph Potter and Michael Simkins
Direction Paul Miller
Design Simon Daw
Lighting Mark Doubleday
Sound & Composition Elizabeth Purnell
Casting Vicky Richardson & Sarah Murray
https://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/

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