“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.
“It’s hard to figure out which is greater, the vibrant whole or the sum of its high-calibre parts”
Yard Players follow up a successful production of King Lear by whip-panning to the other end of Shakespeare’s spectrum, staging his seasonal romantic comedy at the same venue. The audience’s age range suggests Director (and Set Designer) James Eley’s plan to make the classics accessible to all is working, though Twelfth Night traditionally doesn’t need much help, with enough pranks, set pieces and comedy devices to please any post-Christmas crowd.
An intelligent and thorough production starts by shifting Illyria to Northern England, bringing the enjoyable impression that Viola (Jessica Kinsey, sole survivor from King Lear) is shipwrecked somewhere off the shore of Grimsby, then finds herself in the thrall of Duke Orsino (Duncan Drury) a lovestruck local aristocrat who previously had only his Alexa to talk to. In this world, Andrew Aguecheek (also Duncan Drury) is a gratingly braying twit in a flat cap with more money than brain cells and Maria (Heloise Spring) is a lairy troublemaker in tracksuit and hoop earrings.
New jokes are heaped upon 400-year-old ones with a mania that makes the arrival of Viola’s twin, Sebastian (James Viller), in an earnest scene with saviour, Antonio (Daniel Chrisostomou), a huge and welcome relief. This change of pace, style and mood is also a helpful signpost for the arrival of the main plot, a directorial ploy that is used again in the second half, when Malvolio (Daniel Chrisostomou again), as protagonist of the comedic sub-plot, is tormented. As the lighting changes, pinioning him in a red spotlight surrounded by darkness, his comedy becomes tragic and his sub-plot starts to usurp the main story. By the end, Malvolio’s ‘notorious wrong’ carries the greater dramatic weight, overshadowing the supposedly symmetrical love matches that are intended to set things right and send audience spirits soaring.
If it opts for a darker denouement, there is no lack of joy in the performance and creative arts. The substance Daniel Chrisostomou manages to invest in both Malvolio and Antonio gives the production its unusual gravitational force, but it is balanced on the comedy side of the scale by Pete Picton, who is as watchable a Sir Toby Belch as you could find at any ticket price, sowing confusion and enmity with the blamelessness only a drunkard can expect to pull off. James Eley’s nautically themed set is both impactful and detailed and Maeve McCarthy’s compositions are apt in their scene-setting, if rustically played, while Paul Lennox’s Lighting Design, as mentioned, is sparingly deployed but emphatic.
It’s hard to figure out which is greater, the vibrant whole or the sum of its high-calibre parts. Characters occasionally seem to be performing in different comedic genres alongside each other, but the ensemble playing is fast moving, the mischief and malevolence isn’t ignored, and some moments of empathy and pathos slip through at surprising moments.