Theatre Royal, Bath

Theatre review: Candida - frustrated vicar seeks good times

Shaw's tale of the cleric, the scoundrel and the comely wife is about 60 years ahead of its time

A chaise longue stretches, like a languorous temptation, across the middle of Reverend James Morrell’s drawing room. In Candida – George Bernard Shaw’s rarely staged yet surprisingly gripping 1894 portrait of a marriage, revived at Bath Theatre Royal by director Simon Godwin – we first see the cleric beavering at his desk, apparently deeply contented.

An egalitarian socialist in a dog collar, he has a devoted secretary, Miss Garnett, at his side, helping to schedule his sermons and lectures on the London circuit. He is, moreover, blessed with a beautiful wife, Candida (Charity Wakefield), whom he deems pure as the driven snow – especially compared to her father (Christopher Godwin), a shameless capitalist scoundrel.

Besides helping her spouse and the household servants with chores, Candida tends Morrell’s latest protégé. Frank Dillane’s Marchbanks is a  young aristocratic poet, a lovelorn runaway saved from sleeping rough. With his boho attire and battered shoes, snake-thin body and hair slicked down his neck, Dillane looks like a cross between Arthur Rimbaud and Johnny Depp, or the serpent in Eden as painted by Hugo van der Goes. He lurks in the shadows of Mike Britton’s unsettling set, on which bookcases slant within a skewed, gilded proscenium arch.

Marchbanks soon ruins Morrell’s domestic bliss, scorning the reverend’s homilies and threatening to seduce Candida with his more romantic notions.

What’s startling is how – if it weren’t for the bustles, waistcoats and watch fobs – you might think Shaw’s protagonists were from the 1960s. Notably so, when Candida considers the options of open marriage or assertive lover-swapping, and when Marchbank argues for more amorous affairs and frank talk. In fact, Shaw’s drama reminds you how incipiently revolutionary the fin de siècle was – with the emergence of women’s lib emerging and “the talking cure” proposed by Freud’s mentor, Josef Breuer.

Marchbank himself functions like a proto-psychoanalyst, enticing Jo Herbert’s amusingly uptight Garnett to discuss her desires on the couch, while Dillane’s demonic menace is riveting. However, it must be said that Shaw’s dénouement – whilst offering a variation on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House – feels a tad confused, perhaps because the writer was sexually screwed-up himself. Or is there something inept about the engineering of this drama, about how our sympathies are tilted? Rather than coming over as thoroughly decent, should Jamie Parker’s Morrell be more pompous, or insecure? Does Wakefield’s Candida – with her sing-song intonation – need to hint at more frustration? Still, I was rather enthralled by the weird lurches between suspense and farce in this seriocomedy.

Candida was, we gather, always a sucker for fairytales, so maybe she’d have liked The Paper Architect, devised by the co-designer-director duo Davy and Kristin McGuire. Presented as part of the Beyond Barbican season, this is a chamber piece tucked away in a cubbyhole at the Leytonstone Library in east London. John Cording plays an aged, shuffling recluse, living in a fantasy world that he’s constructed out of cut-and-folded paper and sentimental memories.

The McGuires’ miniature, frost-white paper sets are exquisitely pretty and technically impressive: a row of townhouses complete with tiny lampposts that glow in the dark; a backlit forest of 3D willow trees,  with silhouetted animations scampering around.

It was clearly its innovative mix of media that won The Paper Architect this year’s Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award. But the McGuires prove clueless when it comes to scriptwriting and dramatic momentum, and the forest scene is soon swamped by computer-generated clichés and gloop. Dawn rises behind the wood like a nauseatingly tangerine cocktail as we watch a boy-meets-girl romance in which she removes her clothing while he watches from the bushes. Tacky and twee.

In the 1960s, the radical, left-field Living Theatre troupe encouraged folks to shout “Paradise now!” in the street. That’s becomes the muted closing refrain in what happens to the hope at the end of the evening, performed and co-devised by Tim Crouch and Andy Smith at Islington’s experimental Almeida Festival.

Apparently playing himself, Smith – a rotund beardie – sits reading from a script, minimally re-enacting a reunion with an old mate (the shorn-headed Crouch, off-book and on his feet). The latter fetches up at Smith’s marital home in Lancashire, after years of no contact. They used to attend anti-fascist rallies together, we glean. However, the old mate is now cracking up – combative and needy by turns. Smith remains aloof, saying he has found serenity. Breaking the fourth wall, he further muses that the theatre is one remaining place where we can socially connect and learn to live better.

This two-hander may mildly try your patience with its deliberately long pauses. However, the quiet and spartan aesthetic is more often absorbing. As for the virtues of the theatre, it’s a big claim seriously mooted but also subtly doubted here – for Smith may, when all’s said and done, be a lousy friend.

‘Candida’ (01225-4488844) to 20 July; ‘The Paper Architect’ (0845 120 7511) to 21 July; ‘What happens to hope at the end of the evening’ (020-7359 4404) to 18 July

NEXT WEEK A revolution turns sour in A Season in the Congo

Critic’s choice

Staged in a deconsecrated church – St Peter’s, Ancoats – Manchester International Festival’s Macbeth (to Sun) is a curate’s egg but still a hot ticket, with Kenneth Branagh in the title role. It’s additionally being screened live in UK cinemas this Sat (under the NT Live banner). Murderous rotters raise more laughs in The Ladykillers, back at London’s Vaudeville, with Angela Thorne and Simon Day (to 26 Oct).

 

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea