Dwane Walcott as Candide
Dwane Walcott as Candide
Manuel Harlan

Voltaire's satirical tale of the optimist Candide, whose philosophy ebbs away as he learns about the horrors and misfortunes of the world, is given the Mark Ravenhill treatment in this vibrant, eclectic new production from the RSC.

That's both a good and a bad thing, as Ravenhill's brand of satire is rather more vicious than Voltaire's 18th Century original, and his message much more in-yer-face.

In fact, this is some distance away from being an adaptation of the French classic. Ravenhill takes it as a starting point, sending it up in a spoof opening scene, before dragging us forcefully across the centuries, throwing us into a violent present and back into the past again until we finally arrive in a dystopian near future. Here Candide has been cryogenically preserved by his old mentor, the scientist Dr Pangloss, and is revived to make some kind of sense of what mankind has done with the theory he once espoused.

If it all sounds a little ramshackle and scattergun, that's because it is. But in his ranging, critical analysis of humanity's faults and foibles, Ravenhill captures much of the spirit of insanity that colours not just our age but pretty much every age.

Under Lyndsey Turner's direction – which unfortunately creates major problems with sightlines – the large and able cast brings a diverse character list to life, although most are dimensionally challenged, acting as ciphers to convey a single point of view.

Ian Redford's Pangloss is more nuanced than most, while Steffan Rhodri has great fun with a smorgasbord of cameos. Katy Stephens is always watchable as the mother of a tragic teen whose desperation to get her story told targets much of today's media madness.

It's inventive, often very funny, but ultimately rather soulless and flat. What Voltaire would have made of it is anyone's guess.

- Michael Davies