Candide @ Greenwich Playhouse, London

performed by
Prentis Hancock

directed by
Brian Cummins and David Roylance

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of Voltaire’s Canadide, a scathing satire on institutionalized ‘truth’ and superstition that saw its creator exiled from his homeland.

Having presented his one-man adaptation of this literary heavyweight at the Edinburgh Festival, Prentis Hancock now presents it in extended form at the Galleon in Greenwich.

With its aural style and maddening pace of change, Voltaire’s fable seems well suited to Hancock’s tradition of storytelling.
The proliferating characters, whose tales grow ever taller, are affectionately delineated by this warmest of actors. Hancock appears worldly and learned, and it is a pleasure to share in the literary puns as he savours every mouthful.

This production recreates the joy of discovering Cadidide for the first time, and would provide an excellent introduction to the uninitiated. However, to a degree it does so at the expense of combing the depths.

That Candide endures above all of Voltaire’s achievements is itself a lesson in histiography, illustrating the idea that what doesn’t strike a cord with current discourse is readily forgotten. Relevance doesn’t necessarily spring from a text but is deposited there by the reader, and Candide offers plenty of interpretative wriggle-room

Successive generations have found something fresh and vital in the work, and whilst Hancock’s rendition is admirable in its sensitivity to Voltaire’s writing, it is at the same time a touch conservative. The satire ceases when its precepts form such an accepted part of our political subconscious.

Indeed, Candide‘s most oft quoted line I do not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it adorns the cutting-room floor. Subtle play here would have been welcome; a raised eyebrow or deft inflection could have been enough.

Far from being resolved issues, freedom of speech, laissez-faire economics and moral relativism produce polarized positions on the left and right. As such, these are fit subjects for parody. Hancock’s vision of the text is bags of fun, but is more cozy than cutting.

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