Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Being Candid About Shaw's Candida

In high school geometry, I learned myriad facts about the properties of various triangles - isosceles, equilateral and right-angled triangles, none of which I honestly enjoyed. Shaw's comedy, Candida, revived by the Festival from its 1962 debut, and not often performed since, (thank goodness), is the story of a love triangle, and although the acting is superb, the sets and costumes terrific and the concept potentially embodying great merriment, I didn't much enjoy this triangle either. In fact, often during the course of this Shaw groaner, I lamented the fate of the obvious talent present on stage and how it was being wasted on this silly, preachy play.

Claire Jullien (Candida) is stuffed into typically restrictive no flesh-showing below the chin Victorian clothing (Arab burqas anyone?), and not encouraged to manoeuvre much except to smile profusely, pat her two puckish rivals on the head, and finally lose her temper towards the end. Nigel Shawn Williams (Morell), competently displays talent better suited to heavier drama, not this version of the Two Stooges. Wade Bogert-O'Brien (Marchbanks) plays the second stooge, seemingly ready to tackle just about any promising role available at Shaw, yet stuck unfortunately with this one. Finally, there's the three wonderful minor characters: Norman Browning (Burgess), Graeme Somerville (Reverend Lexy Mill) and Krista Colosimo (Proserpine) who appear much like excellent race horses fettered by an invisible jockey (Shaw) pulling hard on their reins and not allowing them to run free. Commendably, they make many short escapes, much to the delight of the audience.

Claire Jullien Is Candida At Shaw Nigel Shawn Williams as The Reverend James Mavor Morell and Claire Jullien as Candida  Photo by Emily Cooper Krista Colosimo Is Prossy At Shaw Graeme Somerville as The Reverend Lexy Mill and Nigel Shawn Williams as The Reverend James Mavor Morell  Photo by Emily Cooper

George Bernard Shaw is the playwright who once commented that, "Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can't sleep with the window open," so we know that he will poke fun at the institution of marriage. Candida, the heroine, is presumably trapped, forced to make a lose-lose difficult decision ostensibly between the dictates of loyalty and passion, and in the third act, she is directly asked to choose between either her pastor husband and presumably a mediocre life of wifely duty or the hyperbolic puppy-dog-like ardour of an immature poet. Hubbie Morell, is a gifted speaker who can preach to the multitude but ironically not converse with individuals; his rival, Marchbanks, is an 18-year-old idealistic acrobat, like a Spiderman apprentice, able to leap about the stage and assume contorted postures seemingly at whim. Both are depicted as immature boy-men, and Candida is tasked to assuage their tricky bouts with maturity, alas, reduced primarily to a mother figure without any hint of sexual desire except for brief episodes of hand holding. Who does she choose? The weaker of the two, of course!

Reverend Morrell (Nigel Shawn Williams) is a popular Christian Socialist, and a sought-after lecturer. He professes that he is so deeply in love with Candida that he repeats glowing platitudes such as, "An honest man feels that he must pay Heaven for every hour of happiness with a good spell of hard unselfish work to make others happy. We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it. Get a wife like my Candida; and you'll always be in arrear with your repayment."

Nigel Shawn Williams as The Reverend James Mavor Morell and Claire Jullien as Candida  Photo by Emily Cooper Nigel Shawn Williams as The Reverend James Mavor Morell and Claire Jullien as Candida  Photo by Emily Coope Norman Browning as Mr Burgess and Wade Bogert-O'Brien as Eugene Marchbanks  Photo by David Cooper Wade Bogert-O'Brien as Eugene Marchbanks and Nigel Shawn Williams as The Reverend James Mavor Morell  Photo by David Cooper

Eugene Marchbanks (Wade Bogert-O'Brien) is an 18-year old poet who Morrell discovered, of course, living in poverty on the streets; despite his patron's largesse, nevertheless, he makes a shocking declaration of love to Morrell - that he is in love with Morell's wife! A true Christian hero, Morrell dismisses this claim, but later is shaken and unsure after he deliberately allows his rival to be alone with his wife. Presumably, allowing for this occasion of potential sin, he merits extra heavy amounts of indulgences on his steep climb towards heaven. The two 'rivals' manfully (?) keep this conflict from the ears of happy-face Candida and ceaselessly argue about who is the right man for her with painful exchanges such as this:

Morell: Man can climb to the highest summits; but he cannot dwell there.

Marchbacks: It's false: there can he dwell forever, and there only. It's in the other moment that he can find no rest, no sense of the silent glory of life. Where would you have spend my moments, if not on the summits?

Morell: In the scullery, slicing onions and filling lamps.

Yes, it's Shaw's primer on Zen Buddhism: chop wood; draw water, but alas, in this melodrama worthy of the Young and the Restless, who can make Candida happy and provide what she needs? And precisely what does she need other than a mature partner? Finally, the only thing that the two combatants agree upon is to let Candida herself decide, but at this point we cease to care because they are both so vapidly silly, and we already anticipate a decision by her to stick with an imperfect marriage.

Like all Shaw plays, Candida is terribly "talky" and "preachy," and in this case, we have not one but two ministers served up for the latter characteristic. It's also about free-thinking, women's rights, the responsibilities of both men and women in marriage, and the issue of speaking truth - which we know can cause trouble.

Morell (Nigel Shawn Williams) encourages, even demands that the "Ronald Regan trickle-down theory" capitalist Burgess (Norman Browning) speak the truth. Morell prefers to preach but sometimes hints at the truth with his physical strength directed at Marchbanks (Wade Bogert-O'Brien). As a poet, the later is compelled to speak glossy truth. Prossy (Krista Colosimo), has a definite thing for her boss, Morell, and almost spills the beans-truth after consuming too much champagne. Reverend Lexy Mill (Graeme Somerville) is more fun to watch clumsily wrestle with books than emitting any truth. And Candida (Claire Jullien), aka Mother Earth, the Virgin Mary and whatever other feminine icon you wish to assign, finally declares her truth, forcing the Two Stooges to instantly grow up. And "Grow up!" is precisely what we want to shout out repeatedly from our uncomfortable Royal George seats throughout the play. Being candid and patient, which Shaw often forces upon his audience, I happily will wait another 49 years for the next production of Candida. Please, no sooner.

Candida is directed by Tadeusz Bradecki and runs from April 7 to October 30 at the Royal George Theatre. Running time is approximately 2 hours including one intermission. Further information:

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