Orange Tree Theatre Squeezes An Impressive Amount of Passion From Shaw's Candida

Candida, Orange Tree Theatre ★★★★☆

By Neil Dowden Last edited 52 months ago

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Orange Tree Theatre Squeezes An Impressive Amount of Passion From Shaw's Candida Candida, Orange Tree Theatre 4
Photo: Johan Persson

Candida is the fourth early Bernard Shaw play staged by artistic director Paul Miller at the Orange Tree Theatre. Once extremely popular, the 1894 comedy is rarely revived these days, but this sprightly production makes a strong case for it. Although it’s a characteristically wordy exchange of ideas, the wit sparkles in a show that also extracts an unusual amount of passion from this cerebral playwright.

Photo: Johan Persson

The drama revolves around two men vying for the affections of Candida: one is her left-wing public-speaker husband Reverend James Morell, who seems more passionate about social justice in the East End than their marriage; the other is 18-year-old homeless poet Marchbanks, a romantic dreamer they have taken in who turns out to come from an aristocratic family.

Photo: Johan Persson

There is much debate about socialism (here the Christian kind) versus capitalism, as well as the ‘Woman Question’ with its evolving proto-feminist viewpoint. Candida’s own voice only belatedly emerges towards the end of the play after she is told she has to choose between the two male rivals when she ironically asks what they each have to offer. It becomes clear that she makes her own decisions and is not bound to any man.

Miller’s revival is light on its feet, adroitly presenting the clashes of principle and personality while also drawing out a surprising emotional depth. Designer Simon Daw’s vicarage features Christian socialist tracts across the stage floor and balconies.

Photo: Johan Persson

Claire Lams’s charming, poised and playful Candida is evidently much more self-aware and clear-sighted than the child-men who mistakenly think she is theirs. Martin Hutson is a credibly sincere if virtue-signalling Reverend James Morell, forced to acknowledge his own dependence on his wife. And Joseph Potter makes a terrifically assured professional stage debut as the fiery but immature Marchbanks who learns to live with unhappiness.

Candida, Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond TW9 2SA. Tickets£15-£32, until 11 January 2020.

Last Updated 29 November 2019