Theatre: Why men don't grow up

THE FULL-HOUSE audience for the Plymouth/Salisbury production of Bernard Shaw's Candida was clearly 95 per cent OAPs. Will there be an audience for Shaw in 20 years? A smattering of young people might have understood the message. Selina Cadell's production is in a popular style. All the characters take a turn at playing to the gallery, tipping the wink, as it were, with knowing stares directed at the audience. It may be that this was how the play was seen at its inception, just over 100 years ago, with the rampaging Janet Achurch playing up to the infatuated Shaw in the play that he described as "written in a spiritual orgasm".

The style went down well with the audience and the performers drew many genuine laughs. Shaw's wit does not sparkle as brightly as Wilde's, but it induces a wry acceptance.

Candida is probably Shaw's most tightly constructed play. It moves economically from scene to scene. The ending can be seen in advance, but is logical. The play proposes the view that women mature much faster than men, who sometimes do not mature at all. It is the men who are the dreamers and the women who protect them from their foolishness. The preposterous Candida is infinitely wiser than her bluff, preaching husband, a sort of Donald Soper figure of the 1890s, and more than a match for the intellectual guile of the weedy poet Marchbanks.

Maureen Beattie plays the calm and collected Candida, rising, in a superior way, above the melee, like the headmistress of an unruly boys school. Sebastian Harcombe has the best part as the young pretender, Marchbanks, and gives a splendidly petulant performance. Bruce White as Candida's reverend husband has one of the most unrewarding parts in British theatre, but manages to steer it just inside the bounds of credibility. Kieron Forsyth plays the naive young curate and Stephanie Jacob covers herself in confusion as the doting "Prossy". Robert Putt has the bluff Doolittle part, where it is alleged that cockneys do not drop their aitches but use them as a prefix when not needed. Putt has a caricature part and he can only play it in that vein.

A strange movement can be observed at The Drum. The studio theatre was built along with the main Theatre Royal at Plymouth, designated for fringe and innovative shows. But it seems to be turning into a repertory venue and has discovered a loyal audience who remember the delights of the quick production turnaround.

Until 8 May, then touring. Box office: 01752 267222