Like many of George Bernard Shaw’s plays, Candida is an empowering piece for women. It tells the story of comfortably married Reverend James and Candida Moral, both of whose worlds are temporarily rocked when radical young romantic poet Eugene Marchbanks charges in with the hope of stealing Candida’s heart.
The play is unusual compared to other plays of the era. Typically, late Victorian drama is dense in subtext, suspicion and deceit with climactic endings where all is revealed. What particularly surprised and delighted me in this play was that (after seeing Marchbanks and Candida enter onstage together for the first time, clearly enamoured), instead of the tension or deceit building up throughout the play, Marchbanks instantly lays down his feelings for Candida to her husband and continues to do so throughout the play. This element of Marchbank’s character, portrayed exceptionally by Todd C. Bartels, was what much of the play focused on. He represented pure emotional honesty, a subject I felt was relevant to today. I myself felt very English and embarrassed when Marchbanks oozed his feelings about the ‘woman he loved’ to a beaming Candida in front of her father. But why? Why should we not be open about our feelings? Are we still perhaps as emotionally repressive as we were in 1894?
I was also very impressed with Lynne Bolton’s performance as Candida. She had very much understood Candida’s strength, independence, and charm, as demonstrated by her elegant swishes across the stage. She flirts and giggles, but only as she finds it such fun! Men were definitely something she wanted and enjoyed, not something she needed.
The play was charming and well put together. I was very surprised when, at the end, I received my programme only to discover that the cast were American. They had got English temperament (and accents) bang on.