Candide Review from 1999

  • Date:
    Saturday, April 17, 1999
    Review by:
    Darren Dalglish

    It is directed by John Caird, with assistance from Trevor Nunn, and plays in the Olivier theatre for a long three and half hours. So has the National come up with yet another great musical production? I think not!

    Voltaire's classic story written in 1758, philosophically explores a world that is dominated by injustices, violence, greed, war and catastrophes in the 18th century. (Which by the way is as relevant today as it was then!!) The story follows 'Candide', a young man who goes in search of love, truth and goodness with the knowledge taught to him by the great philosopher 'Pangloss' who says "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds". However, 'Candide' becomes disillusioned after he loses his love 'Cunegonde' and is subjected to a series of tragic experiences as he travels the world in search of her.

    This musical has many witty lines and some good songs, with some superb characters acted, as usual, by a professional cast, but it lacks pace. If a show is going to be three and half hours long, it needs to be gustier with more excitement. Unfortunately, I think this production is too long and would be far sharper if it was cut by 30 to 45 minutes. However, this is not a bad or boring production as I seem to be making out. It is in fact quite entertaining. It is just that we have become used to the National creating great musical productions, but this one, although good, it is not great!

    The cast cannot be faulted. The boyish looking DANIEL EVANS plays the naive 'Candide' with confidence and lots of energy. Daniel's other work for the National includes "Cardiff East", and the title role in "Peter Pan". He is also with the NT Ensemble 99 in "Troilus and Cressida" and "The Merchant of Venice". SIMON RUSSELL BEALE (one of my favourite actors), yet again gives a superb performance, this time as the philosopher 'Pangloss'. He has such perfect timing, delivery and a strong clear voice and demeanour that makes his presence on stage strong and commanding. In my opinion he is one of Britain's finest actors. He has worked extensively for the RSC and in 1996 he won an Olivier award for best supporting actor in "Volpone" at the National Theatre. His other National appearances include his fantastic performance as 'Guildenstern in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead", and 'Iago in "Othello". Simon is also with the NT Ensemble 99 and will be appearing in "Money" and "Summerfolk" later in the year. There are many more fine performances from the likes of the experienced CLIVE ROWE and DENIS QUILLEY. However, the best performance is by ALEX KELLY who is superb as 'Cunegonde'. At first I thought she looked a little too old and not innocent enough to play the part, but she soon put that idea out of my mind producing some exceptional comic scenes.

    The set design by John Napier must have been done on the cheap! All that is used is a series of different sized wooden cases. Mind you, they were used most cleverly and effectively. Although maybe a big set with many props might have given the show its much needed zest!!

    The show has received a warm response from the popular press: CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH loved the show saying, "THIS may not be the best of all possible worlds but during the National's new production of Candide, you often believe you are watching the best of all possible musicals." , ALASTAIR MACAULEY of THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "It has a few faults and blips. Yet all the energies of those involved carry it, entertainingly and touchingly, along its long journey, until it arrives at a rich blend of wisdom and innocence that is as rare in the theatre as it is in life." JOHN PETER of THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "This is a tremendous production: it is bursting with energy, intelligence, and sheer infectious pleasure of creative spirit." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES says " A pacey, picaresque story needs a narrator, and gets a fine one from Simon Russell Beale, who saunters the stage informing us of devastating evils in cool, incisive style." However, NICOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD was more cool about the show, saying "The slant of Caird's distinctly winsome production and the music and songs leave me only medium-warm in appreciation of this fifties cult musical."

    This is a low-key production. I was mildly entertained, but expected much more.


    I was really looking forward to this as it was one of the few musicals I've never seen.  What a shame though, I was feeling more desperate than any other emotion by the time it did eventually finish!  The longest 3hr 30 mins I've spent for a very, very long time.

    I know this show has a sticky reputation with problems with the original book etc. but the nearest comparison I can think of with this staging of it is with a very bad Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.  The cast were excellent, with what they had to work with, a couple of lovely little scenes were very well done but were sadly lost amongst all the other 'stuff', like dodgy choreography, costumes and general non-funny and very irritating silliness of the piece.

    I do wish they had re-cast the role of Candide and chosen someone who wasn't so overtly Welsh in their singing style and who  was capable of singing a single phrase without bouncing around and stressing every single syllable to distraction.  There were some fine voices in the background who would have been better suited for the lead role, though maybe having played the successful lead in Peter Pan they thought they owed Mr Evans a grown up role!

    I was left wondering if a concert version might be more entertaining, though this was but a fleeting thought and to be honest after this experience I would have strong reservations about attending anything called 'Candide' in the future!!

    (Donna Birkwood)

    I went to the first preview of Candide last week.  It's not fair to do a full review based on a first preview although it all seemed to go very well, but it is worth making a few comments.

    First of all this was a brilliant theatrical production.  It may not please those fans who have come to think of Bernstein's masterpiece as an Opera - the music and singing here are good - but they take second place to the acting.  This is definitely a play with music, NOT an Opera.  The new production brings out the philosophical debate and the satire on optimism (and maybe on more conventional musicals?) and is VERY funny.

    Secondly I thought Simon Russell Beale was outstanding as Voltaire/Dr. Pangloss and all the other cast (part of the National's ensemble group also doing the brilliant Troilus & Cressida) were excellent - with Dennis Quilley making a really strong Martin (the pessimist)

    Thirdly the production design bears all the hallmarks of the best of Nunn/Caird - the multiple use of symbolic sea chests as horses, boats, etc - an important factor in a play that has to range across countries and continents at will.

      In the end I came away humming the tunes - but more importantly engaged by the argument and moved by the ultimately positive ending - the best of all possible results!



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