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Exciting new play exploring optimism
Inspired by Voltaire's historic satire Candide, ou L'Optimisme, this new play by Mark Ravenhill about optimism perfectly uses the essence of the original and runs with it.
Matthew Needham as unfortunate but optimistic Candide
Over five very different scenes, this Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production at The Swan Theatre, in Stratford upon Avon, constantly has a wry smile while questioning whether optimism is all it's cracked up to be.
It moves between Voltaire's unfortunate and eternal optimist Candide in the 18th Century to a modern-day embittered, gun-toting teenager being urged to see the bright side of life rather than murder her entire family, and a future in which humans are to be genetically programmed without pessimism at The Pangloss Institute (a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Pangloss character in Voltaire's original).
For those not acquainted with Voltaire's work, it follows the disaster-ridden life of Candide, who has been encouraged to always be optimistic by his mentor Pangloss despite enduring the Seven Years' War, a Lisbon earthquake, the rape and murder of his loved ones and the death of close friends in a shipwreck.
In this new play, the audience is immediately given a recap of Voltaire's classic novel as we find a naive Candide has lost his memory and is being reminded of his adventures through a rather hilarious play(despite the torrid subject matters).
Moving on several hundred years, we then explore the troubles weighing on the mind of thoughtful teenager Sophie. It gives a modern-day take on everything that we should or should not be optimistic about in the 21st Century.
The result of this scene leads quickly on to the funniest and most cynical section, when vacuous film screenwriters are trying to persuade a grieving woman to tell her story for a new movie. Actors John Hopkins, Richard Goulding and Ishia Bennison are excellent together as caricatures from the film and counselling industry.
Richard Goulding as a screenwriter is part of the funniest scene in the play
One of them even nicely sums up the Candide principal as "sh*t happens, you get over it".
After returning to more insights from Candide's journey, it is the final futuristic scene that ties all the threads cleverly together.
It is at this point that the play reveals its inner soul. Mature actress Susan Engel may only be on stage for a few minutes at the finale, but it is her speech and the passionate way she delivers it that is the most moving and provocative of the play. It resonates far beyond the end of the performance.
Actress Susan Engel gives a powerful, emotional performance in Candide
Witty from the word go, there is something exciting about this intelligent drama. Catch it in Stratford upon Avon until October 26.
Had a very Titus feel to the play with gruesome shootings and wrist slashings. Alison nailed the hilarity of the play though despite it's very dark ideas left you wanting more and thoughts mingling. Spot on.