The Swan Theatre
ROYAL Shakespeare Company writer-in-residence Mark Ravenhill has ‘boldly gone where no man has gone before’ with his new play Candide, inspired by Voltaire.
He cleverly explores ‘strange new worlds’ and ‘new civilisations’ where everyone loves each other in a utopic fashion, war doesn’t exist and gold has no value, in his mission to analyse the consequences of optimism and its opposite.
His voyage takes you on a journey of parallel worlds, the 18th century when the original philosophical novel was published, and the 21st century where mass murder is committed and scientists are determined to discover the happy gene to be instilled in everyone at birth to make the world a better place.
With a traditional ‘play within a play’ as an opening, tableauing the original story of Candide, we find a young man determined to ‘change his story and make his fate,’ by going in search of his lost love.
The audience is then taken on a rollercoaster ride. Firstly to a country hotel where an 18th birthday party turns into a blood bath as the birthday girl, deeply pessimistic, thinks the only way to save the world from global warming is family genocide, sparing only her mother’s life. Then onto a film studio where the mother tries to negotiate turning her story into a feature film.
Throwing in a romantic twist as we are transported to El Dorado where everyone is eternally optimistic.
Before, finally, we are faced with a fusion of the parallel worlds in a futuristic ‘Candide Room’ where Candide finally finds his lost love Cunegonde.
Add to this many absurd and witty turns, including a flying sheep powered by balloons and farts, and here you have Ravenhill’s clever interpretation - full of sharp wit and thought-provoking moments, not dissimilar in essence to the original.
Director Lyndsey Turner handles Ravenhill’s work sympathetically, to create a cleverly flowing piece, which incorporates ingenious theatrical staging with wonderful surprises, made even better by excellent design by Soutra Gilmour and enticing live music by Michael Bruce.
On top of this there is superb acting throughout in what is truly an ensemble piece – although particularly strong are Matthew Needham as the fresh-faced Candide, Katy Stephens as the emotion-provoking mother and Ian Redford’s Pangloss. Not to mention Susan Engel, making a cameo appearance at the end as beautifully elegant but ancient Cunegonde.
Writer and director have certainly given us the best of both worlds with this imaginative piece of theatre, which runs in the Swan Theatre until 26th October.
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