By Mark Ravenhill
Performed by East 15 MA Students
I hadn’t previously visited The Corbett Theatre at East 15 Acting school, but it was a great space for this production. I was unfamiliar with Mark Ravenhill’s contemporary response to Voltaire’s classic Candide: the play launches much in to the old tale – Candide has fallen in love with Cunégonde, you trundle steadily through the 18th century tale and I have to admit, I found myself wondering if this incredibly male-orientated tale was really the best choice for a third year MA show, particularly one with a high subscription of women. However, a sudden twist rips us from Candide’s adventures and in to contemporary life – it’s so surprising you do wonder if you’re in the same play. Ravenhill redirects the action to a modern day birthday party. No ordinary birthday party. Sophie (played by Jess Neale) has quite simply had enough, the world is doomed and the only way forward is to murder her entire family. I went from feeling comfortable with the predictable lull of Candide’s adventures, to sitting on the edge of my seat, hands over eyes, almost unable to watch. The tension was unbearable, Neale’s Sophie was pitched just right, not too over top, playing Sophie’s frightening rational with authenticity.
From here on in we chase the story of her mother, who survives the ordeal and uses ‘narrative therapy’ to come to terms with the events that took place. She is then is mostly forced, but semi willing to share her story with a huge production company, who want to make it in to a movie. We move forward again to a vague moment in the future, where optimism has been harnessed as a gene. It felt accurately in rhythm with the boom of self-help books that have dominated the market in the past ten (probably more) years, and the message carried by books such as The Secret – that positive thinking is the only ingredient required to solve all of ones troubles. And if you haven’t succeeded in doing this, then quite frankly, you have failed miserably as a human being. The Nurse (played by Helena Devereux) is scarily robot-like, giving the hard sell on the future of optimism, and how it’s the only way forward. This of course resonates deeply with Voltaire’s original story of Candide, which was written as a satirical look at a belief of the time that ‘everything was for the best.’
An incredibly strong company from East 15 come together in this surprising, and out of the ordinary story. Their retelling is slick and shocking, and certainly raises many questions about contemporary society.
They are currently looking to return with the show later on in the year.