Writer: George Bernard Shaw
Director: Simon Godwin
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Theatre Royal Bath’s Summer 2013 Season is well underway and the second production this summer is George Bernard Shaw’s Candida.
This play follows the morning, afternoon and evening of one day in the Morrell household. The Reverend James Morrell is a popular clergyman and a successful Christian Socialist campaigner. He is ably supported by his wife, Candida, whose virtues he extols to his friends and colleagues, considering her to be the perfect wife.
This ‘model’ of domesticity and marital harmony is put under the microscope when a young poet, Eugene Marchbanks, announces his love for Candida. But for this young poet his version of love is idealised and romantic. He too worships Candida, but for contrasting reasons and announces his plans to claim Candida for himself and directly challenges the Reverend of the superiority of his version of love to the husband’s.
As with many of Shaw’s works this play touches on some of the political, social, economic and moral issues of the time which are still relevant today. This work looks at the institution of marriage and the idea of love. The young idealistic poet looks for some divine perfection in his choice of partner. A relationship not contaminated by dependence or domesticity where the idea of his wife filling oil lamps or slicing onions gives him the horrors. However, the Reverend looks for more practical support – for a wife to run the house and look after the children so freeing him to focus on driving his social reforms and improving society.
This tension forms the basis in this domestic comedy. Ultimately, the two men corner Candida into choosing between them. But here is the surprise – it is clear there are not just two opinions to consider. Candida also has a strong mind of her own and introduces her own version of love. Who will she choose? Or, will she introduce another choice entirely?
In this work Shaw takes us through some uncomfortable territory, forcing us to reflect on the meaning of the most basic of relationships – wife, husband, mother, lover, love – that are still relevant 100 years after this play was written. But with such incisive wit and irony, Shaw, like Wilde, manages to keep the play very amusing, despite the loaded criticisms of some of the accepted customs of the day. The deft play on words and use of metaphors make the dialogue so rewarding and the comic tensions keep the play on the right side of light hearted entertainment.
This production, directed by Simon Godwin, hits all the right buttons. The three main characters of Morrell, Candida and Marchbanks are deftly played by Jamie Parker, Charity Wakefield and Frank Dillane respectively. Christopher Godwin, standing in at short notice in the part of Candida’s father, has a great night and some of the best laughs. Jo Herbert and Edwin Thomas provide comic support as the loyal secretary and curate. The set, by Mike Britton, is strangely askew which is a little disconcerting but adds to the threat of chaos introduced by Marchbanks’ seismic challenge to the Morrell’s domestic order.
If anything any shortfall to the evening is in the play itself. It almost feels as if some part of it is missing. It is very short and while the subject matter is fundamental the story is very simple and has little depth. You can almost feel like you came away having missed something. But a very good evening nevertheless.