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Candida is highly recommended, despite reservations



Review by David Munro

CANDIDA is one of G.B. Shaw’s ‘Plays Pleasant’, meaning he is writing primarily as a dramatist rather than a polemicist.

It is true, he does tilt at Radical Societies and their ideals, or lack of them, in the play but the main thrust of the plot is whether Candida will leave her fashionable, public speaking, parson husband for a young poet.

While the outcome of the plot is never in much doubt, it is how Shaw arrives there which makes for your entertainment.

There is not a lot of action but there is a considerable amount of dialogue and verbal sparring which, in the wrong hands, can add up to an evening’s boredom. In this production, the spectre of ennui is never far away during the first act, where a certain mount of inaudibility and clumsy stage action rather strains one’s credulity.

However, the shadow is firmly dispelled in a crisp and sparkling second act where all is resolved triumphantly.

Candida herself is a dominant, self-willed, charming woman, who enjoys her power over the two male protagonists; her husband, James Morell, played by Andrew Harvill, and her protégé, Eustace Marchbanks (Richard Claves).

Serena Evans plays her with charm and, in the last act, with authority, but you never felt she got the full measure of the character.

The coquetry and sexual dishonesty, implicit in the dialogue, was missing in her performance which boiled down to a nice suburban mother making a choice of her partner for the croquet match between two contrasting, naughty boys.

Andrew Havill, who plays James Morell, I criticised as John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest as having neither the charm nor character for the part.

The same criticism applies to this part, which comes out (when you can hear him) as a cold fish and he fails to indicate the immaturity and self doubt in the character, which attracts Candida to him.

Although he vows affection for her, he does it in the manner of a collector discussing the prize of his collection, something to be appreciated, not loved.

Similarly, his dislike, and attack on, Marchbanks seems to be motivated more by a desire to protect this rather than from the fear that he is likely to lose the woman he loves.

Marchbanks, the catalyst for Mr and Mrs Morell's potential marital break up, is played by Richard Glaves ,as Lord Alfred Douglas, an amusing conceit and one which makes plausible his apparent aversion to consummating his love for Candida in a physical manner.

It is conceivable that Douglas was the prototype for the part when the play was written, in 1894, a piece of Shavian mischievousness which would have had to have been concealed from the censor and public at the time of the production, in 1904.

Granville Barker, who played the part in the first production, was an actor more in the Rossetti mould and one feels that no actor at that time would have dared portray a man who was notorious and notoriously litigious.

Glaves, however, appears to have no such inhibitions and his is a very good, if somewhat outré, performance which certainly manages to hold the developing ménage a trois firmly together.

Hattie Ledbury, as the repressed and faithful secretary, Miss Garnett, confirmed the good impression I had of her as Gwendolen, in The Importance. Although this is a very different part, she made the most of it and brought the right quality of humour to the character, who could otherwise have been a caricature.

Mr Burgess, Candida’s misanthropic, but politically-conscious wheeler-dealer of a father, was clearly a sketch for the better known Mr Doolittle, in Pygmalion. Barry Stanton played him with gusto and made the most of what really is a peripheral character.

The final part, and another minor one, is that of Morell’s curate, Reverend Mill. This was safe in the hands of Jake Harders, who played him audibly and with vigour whenever called upon so to do.

It is not a part which is a stepping-stone to fame; nonetheless, I consider Mr Harders may be a name to conjure with in the future.

Christopher Luscombe's direction took full advantage of Jonathan Fensom’s admirable set. This was an apparently authentic Gothic study on an octagonal plinth which enabled the characters to have intimate scenes even in the presence of others.

It was, however, in the second act, when Mr Luscombe welded his somewhat disparate cast into a coherent and effective whole, that his skill as a director became apparent.

The final scene of Candida’s selection was beautifully and movingly directed and played by Glaves, Harvill and Evans, making full amends for the failings I had found earlier in their performances.

This scene, in fact, justified the production for me, and it is one I will remember and cherish as one of my more fulfilling moments of theatre-going.

While the evening was, like the curate’s egg, only good in parts, it still made for a good evening in the theatre and one I have no reservation in recommending.

I look forward to the Oxford Stage Company’s next production as, while they may be open to criticism in some respects, somehow their productions, on the whole, are well worth seeing and that is what I, at any rate, go to the theatre for.

Candida, by George Bernard Shaw. Director, Christopher Luscombe; Designer, Jonathan Fensom; Lighting, Jason Taylor; Sound, Fergus O’Hare.
WITH: Serena Evans; Richard Glaves; Jacob Harders; Andrew Havill; Hattie Ledbury; Barry Stanton. Producer: Oxford Stage Company.
Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.
Tuesday, July 20 to Saturday, July 24, 2004.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088.

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