Candida – review

Theatre Royal, Bath

George Bernard Shaw's Candida, written and set in 1894, explores a love triangle in a north-east London parsonage. Incendiary emotions are played out beside the domestic hearth where the preacher/husband and the poet/lover tussle over their idealised wife/mother/beloved – until the eponymous heroine is finally given the opportunity to speak for herself.

Simon Godwin's new production is good at bringing out the elements of farce and melodrama in the text – and here his actors really come to life – but it never quite manages to reconcile the various genres warring in the work. Shaw seems undecided whether he means this to be a drawing-room drama or a woman-question play; or a clash between naturalist and symbolist aesthetics. Mike Britton's set (ably abetted by Oliver Fenwick's lighting) gets the realistic/not realistic quality of the play just right. His set is all wooden spindles, moss-green walls, towering bookcases and shabby but solid furniture – everything is impeccably period, but the walls are all leaning at crazily expressionist angles.

As Reverend James Morell, Jamie Parker is the strong centre of the action. His progress from smugly assured marital complacency to doubt and despair is powerful. This is one of the two consistently strong performances. The other is Christopher Godwin as his father-in-law, an outright, exploitative rascally capitalist, a favourite in Shaw's character repertoire. If Charity Wakefield's Candida and Frank Dillane's poet/lover are less clearly defined, it's in part because her forbearance and his etiolated poeticism are more difficult to make credible to the 21st century. Jo Herbert's Prossie, the uptight secretary discovering she is "a beer teetotaller not a champagne teetotaller", is a masterpiece of comic tipsiness. On a pre-press night, though, the more sober aspects of the play struggled to free themselves from a staginess that gave it the feeling of an interesting museum piece.

Contributor

Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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