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
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
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
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
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,
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.