More than an adaptation for the stage of Voltaire’s Candide, the production of the same name by the students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama can be regarded as a reflection on its text and contents, which is critical, polemical, inquisitive, and – in truly Voltairian style – finding more questions than it does answers. After abandoning its pretensions of loose adaptation at the end of its first half, it launches in what can be construed as commentary on the work by the French author, its underlying philosophy and its relevance to contemporary life and its neuroses. It does so through a clever mixing of different styles in its costumes, staging and delivery, aided by a truly superb use of the theatre space, truly inhabited by the actors and constantly changing the audience’s perspective. The innovative, experimental use of space is among the most effective traits of this production, maintaining it lively and facilitating the switch between the different moods that are introduced in close, and at time frantic, sequence.
This constant switching in mood is also at the same time a strength and a weakness of Candide. While the disorientation it can induce in the audience is clearly desired, and effectively contributes in maintaining a tension on which the play, moving as it does through numerous places, times, and themes, heavily relies, not all of the atmospheres it creates are equally convincing. The play is at its best in its wittier, more parodic sections: there it has a bite that makes it powerful and relevant, conveys its social commentary to its best, and does justice to the style of the original Candide, demonstrating a deep understanding of it. On the other hand, however, the more serious sections are at times too ponderous and not as effective; some scenes have a slightly drawn-out feeling, and some of the longer monologues slip at times into an uncomfortably preachy tone. This is even more noticeable in the contrast with the sharp, perfectly timed satirical sections, which manage to deliver the same socially-aware messages in a far more convincing way. There is a sense, perhaps, that the play is trying to materialise a huge number of different ideas all at once, and might have benefited from pruning the number down somewhat; even though, in such a young group of creative, an excess of ideas is certainly a good sign, more to be lauded than criticised.
All performances are convincing, lively and engaging and displaying the actors’ ability to switch characters and command mannerism without being excessive. As already noted, command of space is also impressive, and some performances, particularly those of Charlie Tripp as Pangloss and Francesca Henry as Sarah, own the stage in a way that is sure to leave an impression in the memory of the audience. The choral and choreographed sections display a high level of technical expertise on the part of the whole cast, as do the changes of scene, some of which rather difficult to manage. Deserving of praise in this is also the work of director Andrew Whyment, tasked with managing a production whose pace is at times frantic. That the play nonetheless feels coherent and well-paced is a testament to the insightfulness of the director’s work.
Even though it does have ample room for growth and improvement, Candide is a brave, enterprising work which attempts and for the greatest part manages to bring to the scene something intelligent, engaging and genuinely different. Just as Voltaire’s work contained a clever satire of the society of its time, this production manages in its best moments to translate that satire in something relevant to our times and their concerns. It engages with its source text dialectically and has genuine fun in doing it; it is competently staged and delivered. Perhaps somewhat ironically, upon leaving the theatre at the end of the play, one is well tempted to be optimistic – for the future of drama at the very least.