King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 19th January 2020
“Waller’s technique of confiding in us, seeking affirmation from individual after individual in the audience is effortless and effective”
Tim Fraser’s ‘Candy’ benefits from an intriguing story idea. Will, a regular guy from a regular Northern town, falls in love with his best friend’s drag persona, Candy. The power of a good premise is evident in the work’s origin, picked out from around a thousand submissions to be staged at the Bunker Theatre in 2018, and here it is, playing to a full house at the Kings Head Theatre, in a new, full-length version.
The play’s second asset is the character of Will himself, tongue-tied in real life but possessed of a sparkling and relentless internal monologue delivered with stamina and charm by Michael Waller. As Will tells of his angst, his dreams, of his fury at the lies sown by his Aunt’s romantic comedy collection, his contemplation of anatomy in the matter of attraction and the alienation he feels amongst his heteronormative friends and colleagues, Waller’s technique of confiding in us, seeking affirmation from individual after individual in the audience is effortless and effective.
Admittedly, from its promising springboard, the tale doesn’t get far. Will doesn’t grow, his besotted state seems neither lustful, nor part of a greater transformation. There’s no sense that Bill, the quirky, indeed wilful, mate from school that went down to the Big Smoke and created Candy, is the real connection he’s striving to make. Instead, the hour’s narrative is pithily summarised by Will himself in an anticlimactic moment of revelation, when he simply confesses, ‘In short, I’m confused.’
The production, devised by the performer himself, never escapes the confines of Will’s head, but Nico Pimparé’s direction keeps things lively with strategically placed folding chairs and a microphone stand for Will to stroll and cavort between, while Stephen Waller’s original music conveys a far-from raunchy drag act as the object of Will’s confusion and elsewhere builds atmosphere unobtrusively.
If, as programme notes hint, a film adaptation may be in the works, Tim Fraser has his work cut out. The idea of a Northern English town with no understanding of drag culture is quaint, and despite Will’s candour and hilarious male logic, nothing quite happens. There’s almost a breakthrough when Will realises that his toad-like Aunt was herself a very different persona in early life…but no, no epiphany, no insight into the social construct of identity, no realisation that love is deeper than a moment of boozed up infatuation. On his mother’s advice, Will retreats to the embrace of Aunt’s sofa-indentations and resigns not to meet Candy, or Bill, again. However, if a second or third act is forthcoming, perhaps one day we might.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Faidon Loumakis
King’s Head Theatre until 20th January
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