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Candide: Theatre review - 'At once spine-tingling and spiritually unearned'

Menier Chocolate Factory, London

Matthew White directs an ebullient in-the-round (and in-your-face) revival of this endlessly rewritten operetta but it doesn't solve any of the problems that have perennially beset it.

Bernstein's score is a miracle of sparkling comic pastiche; the lyrics (by several hands) are unflaggingly droll. But Voltaire's satire against the complacency of philosophical optimism is basically one joke taken on a picaresque global tour of disaster spots and religious iniquities.   

White's cast (which includes Scarlett Strallen as a rather heavy-handed Cunegonde) sing up a storm and revel in the delicious guying of absurd literary conventions. 

It's a pity, though, that the production reverts to Hugh Wheeler's 1973 book which is a one-damn-thing-after-another romp unlike John Caird's 1999 NT rewrite which tried to impose some unity on the proceedings by introducing Voltaire as puppet master. 

James Dreyfus is in fine form as a gamey, disreputable Pangloss. Fra Fee brings a sweet tousled soulfulness to the naïve hero. 

But the repetitiveness and the musical lurches between knowing mock-flippancy and plangent lament deterring emotional engagement. 

And so here the climactic “Make Our Garden Grow” chorale manages to feel at once spine-tingling and spiritually unearned.    

To 22 February 2014; 020 7378 1713