Orange Tree, Richmond, London ****
Runs: 2hrs with an interval
Review of perf seen Dec 28, 2019:
A free thinking poet confronts a charismatic Christian socialist preacher. In between them stands a woman loved by both men. Which one will win her hand?And that is really the gist of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida written in 1894 when the Fabian Society of which GBS was a founder member and its ideas of democratic socialism and progressive ideas were at their height.
With a cast of six, the other three characters in Candida – the preacher’s secretary, his curate and his father-in-law, a typical Shavian capitalist, are outlines only, mouthpieces for points of view on profit and personal attraction.
Nonetheless, out of a mere flick of the wrist, Shaw produces a humdinger of a battle that in Paul Miller’s engrossing production never loses power or falters.
That is partly thanks to GBS’ magnificent turn of phrase. Whether you like or hate Shaw for what some call his `wordiness’, the intimacy of the Orange Tree gives this play the perfect setting for a discussion of moral, spiritual and political ethics.
Hugged into its small, circular space, you don’t need spectacular backdrops or scenery for the drama’s electric charge to be set. Designer Simon Daw and Lighting designer Mark Doubleday succeed fantastically well in, at once, creating the interior of a dark stone vicarage, an exterior society alive with the fever of Fabianism and the hermetic, seductive glow of a fireside – all within its in-the-round circle.
What is love, asks GBS without trust? what is love anyway – the practicalities of cutting up onions, or building castles in the air? Can love withstand idealisation?
Can it withstand truth?
Martin Hutson, unforgettable five years ago as Hans Litten, the lawyer who took Hitler to court in Taken at Midnight at Chichester, burns with a similar inner intensity here as James Morell – a preacher with a devastatingly sincere sense of social and Christian justice, clearly capable of moving mountains when preaching.
Morell also believes himself a happy man, happy and secure in his marriage until Joseph Potter’s Eugene Marchbanks – an 18-year-old aristocrat in love with beauty, truth and the higher echelons of poetic art – invades his household.
Eugene becomes a subtle torturer, a Shavian Iago, provoking Morell into rethinking the terms of his marriage, questioning its very basis.
Potter’s is a remarkable stage debut. Clear, intelligent, firey, he makes Eugene a redoubtable adversary, never afraid to show his emotions and confront others with their suppressed passions.
In between them sits Claire Lams’ Candida – another liberated but idealised, placed on a pedestal Shavian woman.
Her saving grace is, as always, with Shaw, she has a mind of her own.
In one telling passage, too, he allows her a speech that could have stepped straight out of the recent film, The Wife and Meg Wolitzer’s novel – of the wife as a combination of wife, mother, sister without whom the `great man’, adulated and celebrated, could not exist – her final choice of life partner a surprising validation of that, by Shaw at least. Would it have been, one wonders, the same, from a real woman’s point of view today?!
Bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young Cherie Lunghi, Lams carries off the pert, canny, impossibly in control but fascinating Candida with supreme poise and twinkling humour.
Shaw called Candida a `comedy’ with good reason. Never reluctant to show human beings behaving with intoxicating foolishness – nearly everyone calls one of the other characters `mad’ – it is Shaw at his mischievous, provocative best and as such, questions why Candida revivals are so rare.
This is Paul Miller’s fourth Shaw at the Orange Tree, understandably so. He fits the Orange Tree milieu to a tee, providing classy, stimulating, teasing fare – a `petit’ gem indeed.
By George Bernard Shaw
Miss Proserpine Garnett: Sarah Middleton
The Reverend James Mavor Morell: Martin Hutson
The Reverend Alexander Mill: Kwaku Mills
Mr Burgess: Michael Simkins
Candida: Claire Lams
Mr Marchbanks: Joseph Potter
Direction: Paul Miller
Design: Simon Daw
Lighting Designer: Mark Doubleday
Sound Designer & Composer: Elizabeth Purnell
Costumer Supervisor: Rebecca Carpenter
Fight Director: Sam Behan
Wigs Supervisor: Sally-Kate Duboux
Casting: Vicky Richardson & Sarah Murray
An Orange Tree Theatre production.
Runs to Jan 18, 2020
Review published on this site, Dec 29, 2019