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A CurtainUp London Review

"We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it."
— James Morell
Claire Lams as Candida
(Photo: Johan Persson)
If you google the title of Shaw's play Candida you are likely to get medical details as to how to cope with an overgrowth of a yeast infection known as thrush if it grows in your mouth or throat. In Latin Candida means dazzling white but Shaw would have known the adjective applied as starry and bright in reference to Electra's sister Maia by the poet Virgil.

Shaw wrote Candida in 1894 when the independent protestant churches were promoting Temperance against the evils of drink. The play is set in the home a clergyman the Reverend James Morell (Martin Hutson) who is a Fabian, a socialist who believes in gradual change rather than Marxist revolution and who is regularly invited to speak to groups about his political vision. Morell's wife is the eponymous Candida (Claire Lams) whose smooth running of the household allows Morell to concentrate on his political engagements. Note: Lady Ottiline Morrell was the real life inspiration for DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley (Italy 1928) with her unconventional choice of a stonemason as her lover.

Miss Proserpine Garnett (Sarah Middleton) is Rev Morell's secretary, called Prossy and a tad jealous of the much admired beautiful and intelligent Candida. We have to remember how intelligence rated as vegetarian Shaw's top priority as he seemed to marry for conversation, companionship and care rather than carnal desires and progeny. The other male character representing Shaw's alter ego is that of the 19 year old poet Eugene Marchbanks (Joseph Potter). Although he comes from a well heeled family, Candida discovers Marchbanks sleeping on the Embankment and brings him home to Victoria Park near Hackney. Shaw's rooms in Adelphi Terrace were sandwiched between the Strand and the Victoria Embankment, which they overlooked.

Marchbanks believes that Candida is neglected by her husband and that she shouldn't have to spend so much time on rough domestic chores. Marchbanks's conversation is full of flowery phrases putting Candida on a pedestal. To appreciate this play you need to look at the lot of the Victorian woman and wife. Up until 1882, married woman were not allowed to own property until the Married Women's Property Act changed this and allowed married women to own and control property instead of their husbands. In the 1890s the Suffragettes were still campaigning for the vote to be given to women which did not come about for three decades. Simon Saw's designs have the heavy Victorian solidity and Candida's dresses emphasise her tiny waist with a bustle.

So when Candida is given the predicament of choosing between her husband and her suitor, this is revolutionary thinking for a Victorian play. Her criteria reflect the paragon that she is, as she decides to choose the weaker man rather than thinking of her own self interest. I will not tell you whom she decides on. There are many small pieces of wit from the cast. The curate Alexander Mill is played by Kwaku Mills but it is Michael Simkins as Candida's father, the businessman Mr Burgess, who provides much of the amusement as he unashamedly cultivates those able to award large contracts that he tenders for.

The play was so revolutionary that it started a craze to see it called "Candidamania" in New York in 1904.

"A new complaint has become widespread. It may be described as "Candidamania." It is a contagious disease, frequently caught in street cars, elevated trains, department stores, restaurants, and other places where people talk about what they did the night before. "Have you seen Candida?" is the question of the hour. Thousands are dragging their friends to see Mr. Shaw's play." The Sun, New York 12 March 1904.

As with all Paul Miller's productions, this Shaw play is finely detailed and the performances convince. Martin Hutson is the well meaning clergyman looking after London's poor and Joseph Potter is the hopelessly versified Marchbanks. Interesting that, like Shaw, the Morells have no children. I liked too the female performances, Claire Lams as the perfect wife Candida and Sarah Middleton as busy Miss Prossy who hair splittingly declares she is a beer tee totaller, not a champagne one!

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Written by G Bernard Shaw
Directed by Paul Miller
Starring: Claire Lams, Martin Hutson, Michael Simkins, Joseph Potter, Sarah Middleton, Kwaku Mills
Designer: Simon Daw
Sound Designer and Composer: Elizabeth Purnell
Fight Director: Sam Behan
Lighting Design: Mark Doubleday
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office: 020 8940 3633
Booking to 5th February 2020
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th November 2019 at the Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 2SA (Tube: Leicester Square.)
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