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Candide (Susan Elkin reviews)

By Leonard Bernstein, Richard Wilbur and Hugh Wheeler
society/company: Sedos
performance date: 24 Nov 2016
venue: The Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8EQ
Photo by David Ovenden

It’s hard to believe that Voltaire never met Leonard Bernstein. Somehow they collaborate across two centuries with Hugh Wheeler (book) and Richard Wilbur (lyrics) acting as link men. The result is an irreverent, apt, ever topical musical take on Voltaire’s famous Enlightenment satire on wealth, class, politics and philosophy. And it’s in excellent hands with Sedos which, as usual, achieves a near professional standard.

Stephen Russell is a mercurial Voltaire, sparkily narrating the story and morphing into a convincing Pangloss. The latter, of course, argues against all common sense and experience that everything – even murder, rape, earthquakes, the Inquisition and public burnings – is always for the best. An impressively convincing actor, Russell has a fine authorial and authoritative voice.

Mark Siddall’s lanky, fresh-faced Candide is a joy to watch too as he is buffeted naively from episode to episode in innocent pursuit of Cunegonde (Emma Morgan) and his fine tenor singing voice blends well. Morgan is outstanding as his love interest and her Queen of the Night number drooling over the spoils of forays into upmarket prostitution is a real showstopper with high notes like crystal stabs. Congratulations too to Francesca Canty who is standing in as the Old Woman at short notice because of illness. Her performance is highly entertaining especially in the We are Women number with Morgan,

Candide, though, is an ensemble piece and every single cast member adds value. It’s a good choice for a large, talented non-pro company too because there are lots of roles which emerge from the ensemble so there’s plenty of opportunity for nearly everyone. Director Michael Smith makes interesting use of tableaux against Roger Harwood’s simple set which comprises two moveable white sails and some wooden packing boxes in various sizes. The whole concept is minimalist and physical which rachets up the humour when, for example, Candide kills both Cunegonde’s lovers with a single poke from a plastic dagger.

Matt Gould and his splendid thirteen-piece band are upstage in full view which is a good idea given the generous size of the Bridewell’s playing space. It means the musicians and singers are physically close to each other so that everything is very coherent. And that togetherness allows us fully to appreciate the inimitable Bernstein score with its debt to Bach, Sullivan, Mendelssohn Mozart amd more overlaid with his own trade mark syncopated rhythms and striking harmonies.

A jolly good evening’s entertainment, then. All credit to this production and all who sail in her.

First published by Sardines

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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