22 February 2014

Candide at Menier Chocolate Factory

I went to see Candide at the suggestion of a friend. I had heard of the show, obviously, and I respected the reputation of the Menier Chocolate Factory for musicals and so I went.

The Factory was arranged very differently from my last visit, to see Pippin in 2011, which surprised me. Then it was more-or-less a standard stage (though oddly shaped) and this time it was staged in the round and with a balcony too.

The seating, possibly deliberately, was a shambolic collection of short benches some with throws on. Mine was comfortable enough but the lack of arm rests and the overall quality were a poor return for the West End price that I paid (£40).

Though I had heard of Candide I knew nothing about it so that everything that followed was a surprise. I like it like that.

The musical tells the extraordinary tale of Candide and his journeys from Westphalia across Europe and on to the New World, before returning home.

In each city he meets up with his love (Cunegonde), her brother (Maximilian) and their ex-tutor (Dr. Pangloss). This co-incidence is the more remarkable because they often die in the misadventures only to reappear unscathed in another city. That is a nice device to rework the same characters in to completely different scenes and to allow horrible things to happen to them. It is just like one cast performing a series of short unrelated plays.

While the details of the story can be put aside for their deliberate silliness the recurrent use of the same characters and what they represent is more interesting and gives the story its point.

The music is clearly important too and I found Candide fine, if not exceptional, in that respect. There were some songs that enjoyed a lot at the time but the memory of them has dimmed. That is not that surprising as it would take a pretty good song to make a memorable impact on a first listening.

The acting and stagecraft were neat and functional with lots of little touches, such as some audience involvement, adding to the richness of the performance.

It was all very lovely but never much more than that.

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