Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism tells of an innocent abroad trying to make the world match his philosophy. Written in 1759, Voltaire’s satire became a best seller, attempting to make sense of evil, existence, good, love, attitude, predestination, extremism, and the question of happiness.
Sydney Opera House, Drama TheatreSydney Theatre Company Tuesday, 12 January, 2009 (Opening Night) Before the play, outside the Opera House a young man approached and asked politely if he might speak to me. He introduced himself, saying he was from South Korea and wanted to practice his English. “I say to myself, God has made Australia beautiful.” We talk about the atomic bomb trials and North Korea’s aggression. Is not the history of his divided country a sad story? But surely there is hope for North and South Korea? Look at Germany, which reunified with no bloodshed! Everything will come right in the end he says. On his return home he will start compulsory military service. He feels ‘negative’ about this ‘waste of time’ but perhaps it will all be for the best. The young man’s name was Sam, but it could just as easily have been Candide. Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism tells of an innocent abroad trying to make the world match his philosophy. Written in 1759, Voltaire’s satire became a best seller, attempting to make sense of evil, existence, good, love, attitude, predestination, extremism, and the question of happiness. Tom Wright has adapted 19 short scenes from Candide which Anna Tregolan sets in a whirlwind of fans, plane travel, plastic, bubbles and mayhem. Michael Kantor’s direction, which includes music and an eclectic mix of styles from vaudeville to absurdism, articulates some of Voltaire’s ideas more successfully than others. Frank Woodley, the born again actor, plays Candide. Woodley has a core of truth in everything he does and the audience feels it and loves him for it. It is this child like quality that makes Woodley one of Australia’s greatest comics and gives him the potential to become a great actor. His mesmeric presence on stage sometimes disadvantages this production. You want to see more of Woodley working the audience and adlibbing, rather than listen to some of the play’s marathon monologues. Hopefully the above comments will prevent my murder (he threatened the critics in the audience!) when I suggest he did appear to be suffering some nerves and was at times difficult to hear. Woodley is in very good and hard working theatrical company. The rest of the ensemble all takes multiple parts. Barry Otto’s Pangloss embodies the danger of fanaticism in all its forms and his midair excerpt of “She taught me how to yodel” is just silly fun and one of the highlights of the show. Alison Whyte as Jacqueline manages to hold the audience through an immense speech in which she skillfully relates how she, the daughter of a Pope, eventually lost her buttock. David Woods as Martin delivers funny understated lines and then drastically changes the mood to offer his own philosophy- “God has turned his back” and all is “Darkness, Candide, Darkness. In the belly”. Always in the background is ever present air hostess (Amanda Bishop) urging Candide to travel, to move from country to country. Francis Greenslade’s Cacambo is artfully balanced against Candide and he provides a counter balance to some of the action and reaction. Through the experiences of evil, violence and lies it gradually dawns on Candide that his belief in Pangloss’ “All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds” may be misplaced. People do not seem to be happy. A slave (Hamish Michael) tells him “dogs, monkeys and parrots are happier than me”. The slave, with one arm and one leg embodies the human cost of providing luxury (sugar) for the rich. Michael’s rendition of “I could be happy” in a gurgled tortured voice is haunting. When Candide is finally reunited with his love Cunegonde (played with a coquettish bravado by Caroline Craig) both have changed and he no longer deceives himself that even the worst in life is for the best. As Martin says “You might want to live in hope, but be aware you do it against all the evidence”. Good luck Sam. Until 20 February, 2009