The Orange Tree theatre in Richmond provides a wonderfully intimate performance space. With not a bad seat in the house the action is up close and personal, which must be daunting for the actors, who can’t lose sight of their viewers in the dark distance.
Shaw’s Candida is a pertinent choice. The setting is London of 1894 during an era that saw the suffrage movement, voting reforms, the rise of the socialist movement versus capitalism, the formation of The London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the first electric power station in London.
How far have we moved on? Now we have the #MeToo movement, political parties vying for our votes, energy issues, food banks and sweat shops.
These may seem weighty matters for an evening of entertainment, but Shaw demonstrates these great struggles and advances by showing us the effects on one family and its satellite players. To his credit he manages this with wit and humour. The various roles illustrate utopian zeal balanced with jocularity, but also with some hard realities of life, especially for women.
With a cast of six, all the action takes place neatly in the study of Reverend Morell. A Christian Socialist, he spends all his waking hours attempting to educate, inspire and improve society aided by his adoring secretary, another young reverend and his beautiful wife, Candida. He’s a hero figure for them all but is he beyond reproach? And can he withstand a challenge from a young, romantic poet who sees life very differently?
Kwaku Mills is worth a special mention as the ebullient younger reverend; a minor role that he plays with great physical comic impact.
Claire Lams plays the titular Candida; the apparently perfect little wife who humours, cajoles and admonishes her husband much like a child. However, as the plot comes to a head her patience is tested. She has the best line of the whole play, which she delivers with relish, much to the joy of the audience, especially the female members, who respond with uproarious and complicit solidarity.
Ultimately she is forced to put aside her coquettish behaviour which normally serves her well, and when faced with making a life-changing decision shows us a very different side to her character .
This well-executed production provides a thoroughly enjoyable evening that will leave you with a smile on your face while reflecting on how far we have, or haven’t, come in the last hundred years.
Written by: Bernard Shaw
Directed by: Paul Miller
Produced by: An Orange Tree Theatre production
Box Office: 020 8940 3633
Booking Link: https://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/candida/ticket-info
Booking Until: 11 January 2020