Candide Review

Bridewell Theatre 23 November – 3 December.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

Sedos’ reputation as an amateur company with professional production standards is well deserved. Here, they tackle Candide – John Caird’s National Theatre version – with confidence and conviction, creating a show that, although overlong, never loses its sparkle. And let’s face it, any musical with a song about the clap is always worth a look.

Leonard Bernstein’s music is as gorgeous as ever, and Richard Wilbur and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics gleefully enhance Voltaire’s biting wit. The plot would take longer to explain than the show’s running time, but takes hapless hero Candide on an episodic odyssey through Europe to the New World and back again through war, accidental murders, miraculous survivals and reunions while his lost love, Cunegonde survives on her wits and her feminine charms. The tone is whimsical, brushing over battlefield carnage, religious persecution and murder with a knowing “look at the idiocy of the human race” wink at the audience as Candide tries to reconcile his teacher’s optimistic “best of all possible worlds” philosophy with what he experiences in the world.

The tale is narrated by a sardonic Voltaire (Stephen Russell in full honey voiced mode), who prowls around the stage acting as ringmaster as his creations perform. Russell also plays the optimist philosopher Pangloss, whipping on a pair of daft glasses and morphing into an innocent man-child version of Ade Edmundson. Mark Siddall is sweet as Candide, all wide eyed blinking charm; while Emma Morgan is magnificent as the mercenary Cunegonde – her version of Glitter and Be Gay hit all the (very high) right notes, and was as full of emotional character as any professional performance. Francesca Canty also impresses as the Old Woman. Stepping in at short notice due to illness, Canty revels in her cod Eastern European accent and oozes charisma as she tells terrible tales of her past and guides Cunegonde towards wealth and pleasure.

The company are enthusiastic (some a little too much so) and committed, with fantastic vocals accompanied by the wonderful orchestra – with musical director Matt Gould creating music that would be at home in the West End. Under Michael Smith’s assured direction, the show is crisp and clean, with the choreography being homely rather than thrilling, and the design, keeping to the simplicity of the NT production is effective, feeling just right in the Bridewell Theatre space. Early in the run, the lighting cues needed refining, and the comic silhouette effects didn’t work, but I am sure these hiccups will be ironed out as the run continues.

Sedos’ Candide is stylish and accomplished, full of energy and charm with some outstanding performances. A fantastic way to warm your heart on a cold Winter’s night.