Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 7 December 2013


Menier Chocolate Factory ⋄ 23rd November 2013 - 22nd February 2014

Buoyancy and energy.

Lucy Katz

The Menier Chocolate Factory’s exuberant new production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide begins with an explosion of movement from the fifteen-strong cast which  sets the tone for a production which is, if nothing else, undeniably high on energy.

The musical is based upon Voltaire’s 1759 novel – which has been the cause of many an A level tussle – a book which charts the changeable fortunes and ultimate hardening of the title character – played here by Fra Free – and his love for the morally questionable but stunningly beautiful Cunegonde – a stand-out performance by Scarlett Strallen.

This adaptation, written and first performed in 1956, has gone through various incarnations since, and whilst Bernstein’s score has remained intact, Hugh Wheeler’s book has been more subject to change – here director Matthew White has tightened things up considerably in order to keep up momentum.

It’s the strength of Bernstein’s score, and the pithy, witty lyrics, which carries the piece, and the songs successfully convey  Voltaire’s mix of satire and sarcasm. Candide is a critique of the nature of optimism, as summed up by the refrain of Candide’s tutor, Pangloss: ‘all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.’ The emptiness of this statement is exposed as Candide and his companions are tossed from the tragic to the miraculous and back again, their faux-positivity ultimately replaced by Candide’s more practical and realistic desire to ‘make his garden grow’.

Strallen’s vocal gymnastics during  ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ provide the musical high point of the show; her wide-eyed, greedy wonder proving an excellent contrast to the furrowed brow of Free’s earnest and naïve Candide. The titular character can come across as bland on the printed page, and this is perhaps why – despite a consistently strong performance from the flesh-and-blood version – he remains an oddly unsympathetic, unknowable figure.  His innate passivity is problematic; he is a character to whom things happen rather than one who steers his own narrative, and though the final moments of the production are genuinely tender, this lack, this absence, remains an issue throughout.

That said, as an exercise in storytelling the production is very effective and White makes superb use of the in-the-round performance space, as well as the balconies and even the stairs, to create and sustain a sense of feverish, farcical energy over the course the piece’s lengthy running time. This intensity is aided by Adam Cooper’s springy choreography and there’s an almost pantomime quality to some of the scenes, which is enhanced via moments of audience participation and a scattering of self-referential asides. It’s this air of the fantastical, this buoyancy, that you come away remembering and despite some narrative and stylistic issues, as a whole this makes for a winning, convivial production.


Candide Show Info

Directed by Matthew White

Cast includes Fra Fee, Scarlett Strallen, Cassidy Janson, Ben Lewis, David Thaxton, Jackie Clune, James Dreyfus, Carly Anderson, Jeremy Batt, Michael Cahill, Christopher Jacobsen, Frankie Jenna, Rachel Spurrell, Helen Walsh, Matt Wilman




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