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Candide review at Iford Manor, Wiltshire – ‘marvellous material’

Iford Arts, Candide at Iford Manor, Wiltshire. Photo: Mitzi de Margary
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Just what exactly is Candide? There’s no neat answer. Jeff Clarke – who stages Iford’s production – admits that, like The Tales of Hoffmann, Candide has become “one of those works of which there will never be a definitive version”.

Following its disappointing 1956 Broadway reception, the piece has been revamped on numerous occasions, and undoubtedly – 27 years after Leonard Bernstein’s death and 34 after Lillian Hellman’s – there will be further attempts to fix it.

Bernstein himself was clear that what he had written was a comic operetta, and this production by an opera company with a cast split between opera singers and musical theatre specialists, plus some who do both, identified itself as the 1999 National Theatre version by John Caird.

It is nevertheless too long, arguably sticking too closely to the endless succession of plot locations in which the perennially innocent Candide can (perhaps) learn yet more hard truths. Much of the material is, of course, fascinating, though not every single number maintains the composer’s highest level.

Clarke is a master of comic direction, and his cast of 14 – some of them taking up to seven or eight roles each – throw themselves at each and every routine and stretch of dialogue; one or two fumbled lines reflect the sheer amount of material to be memorised.

As co-designer with Elroy Ashmore, Clarke also ensures that the constantly changing sets suggest the more than a dozen countries through which we pass during the two-act show; he and Wanda D’Onofrio have raided his 25-year-old company’s costume store covering innumerable comic operas and operettas and come up with some plausible, fantastical creations.

Iford’s experienced artistic director Oliver Gooch conducts 14 accomplished members of the Orpheus Sinfonia, and together they attack Bernstein’s regularly brilliant score with distinction.

Verdict
Jeff Clarke’s comic production is a reminder of what marvellous material Bernstein’s operetta contains
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