Review by David Munro
THE trouble with Candide is Voltaire - a paradox perhaps
as without Voltaire there would have been no Candide.
None the less, in endeavouring to keep Candide faithful
to Voltaire, Bernstein and his many collaborators have, over the
years, merely succeeded in producing a flawed masterpiece.
Had they stuck to the plot and ignored the philosophy this might
have been avoided, but even the latest John Caird/Hugh Wheeler
version, as performed by the Opera Group, one is all too conscious
that Voltaire's ethics are better suited to the page rather than
the stage. Bernstein's score is unquestionably one of the greatest
ever written for the musical stage.
The lyrics, by various hands including Stephen Sondheim, are
always apt and sometimes witty (when they stray from the Voltarian
path), but the net result is a brilliant first act and a second
which make you feel, like the Old Lady in the plot, that you have
only one buttock - hers was cut off, yours thankfully is just
And this is not the fault of the actors, but of the script that
feels it is beholden to encapsulate the essence of Voltaire's
Philosophy in a few overlong and dreary scenes before the resolution
of the plot.
Being faced with this, the director, John Fulljames, of the Opera
Group touring production, has decided to adopt a very earthy approach,
(presumably he would call it 18th Century in deference to Voltaire)
to such an extent that, at one moment, I felt that he should have
dropped the final "E" from the title, so raunchy were
the goings on onstage.
He has updated it to a mythical present, incorporating spaceships,
revolvers and fetishism, as opposed to the frills, furbelows and
elegant debauchery of the novel.
It was certainly a novelty to have "Glitter and Be Gay"
sung as an accompaniment to Cunegonde's whipping of her two lovers,
even though it underlines the immoral aspect of the character,
highlighted in the lyrics although not quite so frankly.
The actors, to do them credit, rose above all these bits of de
Sadian by-play, singing superbly (and audibly) and bringing an
air of jollity and good humour which ameliorated somewhat the
antics they were called upon to portray and robbed them of all
the embarrassment which a less capable cast could have inflicted
on the audience.
A company of 12 who have to play many parts and act as the chorus,
they are justifiably described as the 'ensemble' in the programme.
Simon Butteriss is convincingly amusing as Voltaire, who tells
the story and keeps the action flowing. He alternated this with
Pangloss, Candide's tutor whose (Voltaire's) philosophy, that
all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, underlies
Candide's inability to accept the world for what it is and causes
all his misfortunes that are the justification for the evening.
His depiction of Voltaire is a polished performance, witty and,
in a way elegant, which frames the activities of the rest of the
characters and defuses the latent unpleasantness of what they
are called upon to perform by the plot and director.
His Pangloss is a cartoon character, who deserved the round of
applause he got for his speech in the second act, describing his
adventures and misfortunes.
The Candide was beautifully sung by Daniel Hoadley. Every word
could be heard and his characterisation both vocally and dramatically
was perfect. His Candide was believable (which perhaps may not
be so much of a compliment, seeing what a hopeless nerd the character
is!) and one feels that here is a new leading man for the London
stage, if his ambitions are that way inclined.
His Cunegonde was equally well played and sung by Donna Bateman.
Her transformation from bobbysoxer to dominatrice was a delight;
she kept the simplicity of the character evident beneath the more
sophisticated mask of the role, that robbed it of its unsavoury
nature which a more 'knowing' performance would have given it.
The Old Lady, with whose missing buttock I painfully empathised
during the latter part of the evening, was given full justice
by Jill Pert; a well-rounded performance which belied her name.
Her delivery of the speech emphasising her despair and series
of degradations was so effective that it takes its place in my
memory with Patricia Routledge's performance in the same part
- with the edge possibly in Jill Pert's favour.
Paul Featherstone couldn't fail to catch my eye as he made his
entrance as the Grand Inquisitor on stilts, although this in no
way detracted from his performance, either in this part, or any
of the others which he played during the evening.
Similarly, Devon Harrison; his performance made me wonder whether,
if Leonard Henry was blessed with Devon's vocal attributes and
skill, he would have succeeded in convincing me he was a better
actor/singer: I decided that he wouldn't.
Charlotte Page played Paquette, the archetypal ruined maid, just
this side of stereotype and succeeded in making the part amusing
and effective in the few scenes she had, whether her feet were
in the air or on the ground!
The rest of the cast did not have the opportunities to take centre
stage, as did those I have just mentioned, none the less I was
impressed by their performances in the choral scenes and the fleeting
moments they did emerge from the crowd.
In short, I could not fault any member of this well-performed
The action took place on a bare stage with screens on which were
projected various scenes and other descriptive items or words
supplemented where necessary by chairs and tables; effective and
well thought out, which did not impede the action and for which
credit must be given to Alex Lowde, who also must take credit
for the creation of the costumes, which were, to put it mildly,
stylised and amusing.
In this respect, I did wonder whether Alec Lowde was really a
'nom de robe' for Ann Summers. If not - Miss Summers, you have
just found yourself a talented new designer!
All in all, even given the longeurs of the second act, I accept
this was the best of all possible productions given the handicap
of the source material - and Candide-ly, my dear, I don't give
a damn - it is worth seeing - despite that missing buttock.
CANDIDE adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler & Richard
Wilbur New version by John Caird Music by Leonard Bernstein; Lyrics
by Richard Wilbur Stephen Sondheim John Latouche. Dorothy Parker
Lillian Hellman and Leonard Bernstein Directed by. John Fulljames,
Designed by Alex Lowde, Choreography by Maxine Braham, Lighting
by Jon Buswell, Conducted by Patrick Bailey. WITH: Donna Bateman,
Simon Butteriss, Giles Davies, Paul Featherstone, Devon Harrison,
Daniel Hoadley, Andy McWilliams, Charlotte Page, Sara Parry, Jill
Pert, Michael Robinson, Saffron von Zwanenberg. Produced by The
Opera Group at Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.