Theatre Royal, Bath
Given how few opportunities there are these days for admirers of George Bernard Shaw to see his work they are advised to make the journey to Bath where Simon Godwin's spry production of his early work Candida brings to life the intellectual debates of the 1890s, the mystery of a marriage and the vanities of what Shaw clearly regards as the weaker sex: men.
The setting is the drawing room of a parsonage in north London and the marriage under investigation that of the Reverend James Morrell, a popular Christian Socialist preacher much in demand from an array of societies, and his wife Candida, with whom a poet 15 years her junior and a guest in their house has fallen in love.
The play, written with characteristic Shavian wit and insight, touches on themes such as truth to oneself, men's inability to understand women or give them their due and the contrasting attractions of domesticity and the romantic world of the poet.
It is an intriguing rather than a gripping evening. The two leads don't burn as brightly as one might hope - you are never quite convinced that they could have the effect on others that is claimed for them - and so the final scene lacks the necessary tension.
The minor characters are vividly portrayed, however: Frank Dillane's sallow, nervy Marchbanks is gaucheness incarnate; Christopher Godwin's wily Mr. Burgess, Candida's businessman father who pays his workers more merely so he can get Council contracts, is a more appealing figure than Shaw intended him to be, a welcome dose of hard-headed realism amidst all that idealism; Jo Herbert's Prossy Garnett has a nice line in sarcasm and home truths, and her champagne-induced ‘giddiness' is a treat.
- John Campbell