Sing a merry tune
I ONCE worked with a colleague who came into the office singing joyful hymns. It was the most depressing moment of the day.
Playwright Mark Ravenhill felt the same when he noticed how people respond to a simple "How are you?" Instead of the traditionally British "Mustn't grumble," they are more likely now to say "Great" or "Brilliant."
Such universal optimism scared him, so when asked to write a play for the RSC, he chose Candide.
"Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds," says Candide. Yet Voltaire created his savage satire after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake that killed 40,000 people. Progress has come a long way since then, you might say. We have two million displaced people in Syria, melting ice caps and an economic system that claims to save the world while creating its crisis.
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In Ravenhill's reworking, Candide's tutor Dr Pangloss – played by the suitably rubicund Ian Redford – praises the syphilitic girl who infected him. The pox came from America, as did tobacco and chocolate – exports that outweigh the pestilential downside, he argues.
In this witty, dizzying, black farce, Candide, a wide-eyed Matthew Needham, sees his life re-enacted as he journeys in space and time – once memorably on a flying sheep propelled by flatulence – to test Pangloss' teachings.
At a demented birthday party, Sophie (Sarah Ridgeway) makes her contribution to the problem of over- population by killing almost everyone in the room. Then the sole survivor, aided by a scriptwriter, the hilariously manic Richard Goulding, reinvents the whole story.
"It's the Candide principle," someone explains. "Shit happens; you get over it."
Finally, Candide arrives at Optima Pharmaceuticals, not far in the future, launching a happiness gene for all.
So how would that make you feel? "Brilliant." Sing a joyful song.
Candide, 110 minutes without an interval, runs until October 26. Tickets: 0844 800 1110 or www.rsc.org.uk.