I had high hopes for this production, described in its blurb as Controversial, topical, challenging, sometimes comical, always thought-provoking. It does get off to a good start, the pace and dialogue fast, whilst the conversation between Louise (Mary Tillett) and daughter Jenny (Sophie McMahon) is engaging with tensions running high. Jenny has been traveling in Peru and has now returned home on the eve of Passover. As Louise rushes about clearing the dining room table, Jenny makes an astonishing announcement that shocks her mother.
Next door are Julia (Kathryn Worth) and her son Ian (James Duddy). Jenny and Ian are childhood sweethearts, and there are many episodes attempting to rekindle the fire between them. The two mothers are constantly at war, chiefly because of their differing religious beliefs. Unfortunately, after a while, the bickering between them becomes tiresome.
The play is badly hampered by some questionable directorial and staging decisions. The use of the third person pronoun during monologues, even when the person being spoken about is present, feels an odd choice. There is further inconsistency in the staging so that during these moments there are often sideways glances between actors, making it appear as if one is really addressing the other. Some staging adjustments could have greatly improved these monologue scenes. And direct audience address may have made for a more engaging choice.
Scene transitions would work far better with lights down. It seems ill conceived and awkward to have actors passing one another as they leave or enter. Also, the music for the next scene sometimes came in too early as actors were moving on and off stage.
During the picnic scene, the long gaps between couples talking leaves the scene disjointed and disengaging. There’s an insufferable long gap when the younger couple are simply sat waiting. It would have benefitted from shorter gaps or even some overlapping dialogue. Then the dance between the two women, whilst effective in showing that Louise does have a fun side after all, could have been better choreographed.
When there is an interval, a rarity in fringe theatre, there should be a point of drama to take us there. Here none existed and I would question whether an interval was actually necessary. Then as Act Two began, there is some confusion as we try to figure out where Louise and Jenny are now. The addition of some props to signify a change of scene from the one that closed Act One could have made it clearer that the location had changed.
There were other things troubling me, but I suspect these are more an issue with the original script. I’d initially assumed that Louise and Julia were single mothers, and that Jenny and Ian their only children. Yet later there are references to other family members and husbands. I appreciate the play was written for a cast of only four, yet it felt odd that other family members were often spoken about yet their absence for important religious festivals and meals went without explanation.
There are some comical moments, and the final scene between the four arguing about the Kosher wine is particularly entertaining. It was a real highlight watching Julia finally lose her temper. But overall, I found myself caring very little about any of the characters. The production failed to live up to its promise of being Controversial, topical, challenging, sometimes comical, always thought-provoking. I had hoped Candlesticks would be topical and thought-provoking, but sadly it felt dated, and further let down by poor production values.
Written by: Deborah Freeman
Directed by: Jenny Eastop
Produced by: Mercurius
Candlesticks plays at White Bear Theatre until 15 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.