Thursday, 19 December 2013

'Candide' at the Menier Chocolate Factory

As part of my pre-Christmas entertainments I got tickets to see 'Candide' at the Choccy Factory. I was sort of aware of Voltaire's book but not of Bernstein's musical version so it sounded like fun. And it was.

'Candide' is a tale of optimism gone sour. Our hero, Candide, has many trials and tribulations to overcome on the path to true love - whipped to within an inch of his life, killing two priests, going to the New World to make his fortune and finding out that his love is a lady of dubious morals. Throughout it all he looks on the bright side until the very end when his world comes crashing down. And then he realises you've got to get on with life and play the hand you've got. So he does. Brave Candide!

The Bernstein musical seems to have been played with by various hands over the years to make it work and add different bits here and there. Our hero travels from Westphalia to Paris to Buenos Aires before ending up in Venice, so he gets around a bit and that introduces different musical themes. In each continent he finds people he thought were dead to be alive but there's no time to tell the story of how they ended up not dead. Quelle coincidence! It's set in its time so we have lots of brocade and lace in the costumes, all slightly dowdy and lived in to make them real.

It's set 'in the round' so the audience is on all sides with the actors coming in from the corners. Now and then, some scenes/songs start off at the back of the auditorium that means we can't all see what's going on which is a bit annoying  - or maybe it's designed to get us all to come back but sit somewhere else to get a different take on the action? Who knows? Now that I've seen the audience participation bits I know where not to sit (and where to not get splashed with water when the boat gets shipwrecked).

It was great fun, with some great singing and dancing and I gawped at the speed of the thing with one scene blurring into the next and never knowing what was to follow. Scarlett Strallen was excellent as Cunegonde, our heroine, who happens to fall from one sugar daddy to the next with no great effort but some lovely songs, particularly 'Glitter and Be Gay' from which she wrung every laugh possible. I also liked Fra Fee's voice as Candide but he needs to work on some charisma. Another star was Jackie Clune as the 'Old Lady' with one buttock (you need to hear the story). Jackie brought a maturity and a level of daftness to the affair that was most welcome. Most of the cast took on several roles and that worked really well.

So many Choccy Factory productions have transferred to the West End - and a few to Broadway - so it'll be interesting to see what happens with this one.

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