Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Dating from the 1890s (but not performed until the Edwardian era), Candida is arguably George Bernard Shaw’s most contemporary feeling comedy. At its heart, the play is a melodrama asking profound questions about what a woman’s place might be in the socialist society which Shaw perceived dawning about him. It is about how modern men seeking lasting love must accommodate their womenfolk.
The heroine is married to clergyman James Morell whose reputation for stirring Christian Socialist oratory ensures that he is in constant demand as a platform speaker. Morell’s carefully cultivated public profile is projected with the support of his typist Miss Proserpine Garnett as well as his assistant Alexander (Lexy) Mill. But it is Candida who is ever vigilant, ensuring that the petty distractions of daily life do not disturb her husband’s mental repose. The play opens with a homecoming. In company with the aristocratic (but down at heels) poet Eugene Marchbanks, Candida arrives to find Morell reconciling his long standing disagreement with her own father, the flashy businessman Mr Burgess. The tranquility will not endure long however as Marchbanks has determined to steal Candida away from a life which he imagines is suppressing her true qualities. Qualities with which he has fallen hopelessly in love. The patient Morell is unaware of a snake in the grass about to strike.
This production packs a deal of material into the time available. Rather like the company’s costumes there are short falls and bulges. There are moments when we see trousers not reaching heels, or a double waistcoat buttoned only on the near side. Yet the high drama is well tailored and if not quite a perfect fit does a grand job of keeping Shaw pacy. The cast grow in confidence and what at first seems a rather nervous and hesitant dip becomes a full plunge as the play progresses.
A well balanced cast delivers the good stuff in a most creditable fashion. Lynne Bolton shines as Candida and is not afraid to reveal the less attractive aspects of her character’s self-possession. Todd C. Batels is an excellent fit for Marchbanks. Once he has found himself, he begins to own the stage. Michael Kopko’s thoughtful take on Morell keeps the reverend gentleman both likeable and dislikeable in equal measure. Will Jeffries as Burgess is an excellent foil to Kopko – you will find me at the front of the queue if these two were to return to Edinburgh in a production built to capture their evident capacity for quick fire verbal jousting. A. T. Wilce as Lexy adds a needed dash of tabasco to the proceedings whilst Rachel Mewbron’s Miss Garnett is a surprise gem.
Despite their beautifully furnished and roomy set, the cast are occasionally bunched behind tables or overly absent from the centre of the stage but when they are all present and correct they are a marvellously entertaining and captivating ensemble.