David Lewis discovers that everything really is for the best

‘Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.’ So runs the philosophical conceit of the pathologically optimistic Dr Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide (currently on tour across the province).

Oh yeah Dr Pangloss? How does that fit with getting a parking ticket minutes before OMAC’s latest show? In the best of all possible worlds surely traffic wardens would not exist?

Clearly, I am in need of instruction. Fortunately the audience arrives to face a large blackboard with ‘Candide’ chalked up. A lesson does indeed await, and the pink feather duster hanging at the side of the blackboard hints at the style of teaching.

The four-strong cast ‘bom bom bom’ their way on stage, a barber shop quartet in boaters and braces, and so Candide’s odyssey of suffering begins. His travels take him around the world, from Germany to Lisbon to the New World to Constantinople, encountering battles, earthquakes, shipwreck, and the Inquisition en route. Throughout, his love for the ‘masterpiece of nature’, the beautiful Cunegonde shines through.

Sticking to Bruiser’s ethos of ‘minimum set for maximum impact’, the actors are given only a handful of props to create a myriad of scenes, characters and locations. The result is a wonder of ensemble acting and comic timing.

Bulgar soldiers have Yorkshire accents and cloth caps. A Mancunian Manichean could be straight off the set of Corrie. The tee-heeing citizens of Eldorado wear pom-pom hats, in keeping with their ludicrously happy lives. Some comic scenes titter long in the memory – Jesuit priests in a ‘praise be’ sing-off, come hither Parisian whores, an explication of how ‘le pox’ is contracted, the uglification of Cunegonde, a wrestling match with a Turk…

The characters may be cardboard cut-outs but this is hyperbolic satire in keeping with the original. Subtle it is not. Voltaire is holding up a mirror to a ‘world of tricks and lies’ and kicking church, state, rival philospophers, and frail humanity, all, hard in the goolies. 

A golden-bewigged Tommy Wallace, who plays Cunegonde, amongst many others, is the highlight, a cross between a diminutive David Walliams and Kenneth Williams. At times he out-camps Patrick J O'Reilly, which, my darlings, is some achievement. Paddy Jenkins also excels as Dr Pangloss (think enthusiastic English professor) and as a wee Belfast woman whose travails have left her with a single arse cheek (don’t ask). 

In recent years O’Reilly has been writing, directing and starring in dark, Valium-inducing physical theatre with Red Lemon. His adaptation of Candide is his best work to date. It’s no coincidence that director Lisa May is at the helm, keeping the production taut, teetering on the edge of hysteria, but never quite falling over.

By the end of the play, Candide has been brought to the edge of despair, finally seeing ‘the world in all its ugliness’. If this is the best of all possible worlds, he asks, what can the others be like? But like all good optimists, his despair doesn’t linger.

A rival publication complained about this adaptation being ‘too clever’. Ha, ha. If ever there was a reason to see a show it’s when our dumbed-down parochial press (for parochial people) makes complaints like that. When was the last time you saw a play here that was 'too clever'? Not so clever, more like. 

As for the parking ticket. Well, applying Dr Pangloss’s law of ‘Cause and Effect’, by this time next year I’ll be sitting on my one arse cheek on a traffic warden-free tropical paradise, sipping a Pina Colada. 

All together now. ‘Everything is for the best in the best of all…’

Candide is showing at OMAC until April 8, then goes on tour throughout Ireland