Ten years ago, in 2004, a major refurbishment of the Big Schoolroom took place, which gave a wonderful new lease of life to the nineteenth century building's use as a performance venue. The audience for this year's Junior Play, Candide, enjoyed a very creative and visually arresting use of the space. In the traditional stage area were banked rows of seating. Likewise on both sides of the Big Schoolroom. At the Cadogan end, and right down the centre, were the main acting areas. Ronan Swift and his fellow directors produced a fast-moving and highly enjoyable version of Voltaire's novel.
The central character, Candide, is hardly ever off the stage. Casting James O'Connor was a bit of a gamble: he is very young (I Form) and his voice is not as strong or developed as some others in the cast. However, as the performance unfolded, I became increasingly convinced. His (relative) youth emphasised the essential naivety and optimism of his character. He has a sympathetic stage presence and was very assured in a most challenging role. In the plot he was often at sea, but never in his acting.
There were more than twenty other young actors in the cast, the majority of them playing more than one role. Their versatility and easy transition from one character (and/or gender) to another were very impressive. The exotic costumes added to the spectacle, particularly on Mantuk Suen as the Sofi. Freddie de Montfort's roles as Dutch Citizen/Monkey/Prime Minister will give some idea of how they had to move from one extreme to another. There were some very strong performances among the single role characters. Aisling McBurney was a pert and coquettish Cunnigonde. After a quiet start, the role of the servant Cacambo was played with mournful authority by Ralph Sweetman-Sutton. Ross Magill had everyone in stitches as the Old Woman (imagine an eighteenth century Mrs Doyle from Fr Ted). Michael Kennedy had the the scene at the start as Narrator mad a brief (but highly effective) cameo appearance later as Don Issachar.
The cast were roughly fifty-fifty boys-girls and some of the girls gave especially confident performances: Darcy Maule as the Queen of Bulgaria and Elizaveta Kozhevnikova as Sergeant/Dervish come to mind. I was sitting beside an Old Columban from the 1980s, Hugo Smythe, who was obviously enjoying his daughter Louvisa (Soldier/King of Eldorado/Whip Master) as much as she was enjoying herself on stage. That enjoyment pervaded the production. They were all having the best time; I thought Mark Crampton (Baron) might levitate, he was having such a ball. All of the cast will long remember participitating in such a lively and imaginative production.
Music and sound effects helped move the production along. I particularly enjoyed hearing Tristan Clarke's Sine Nomine choir making their contributions. When you look at all the pupils and staff involved, you realise what effort, on so many levels, went into this Candide. I would applaud the producers' ambition and the great pleasure they gave to cast and audience alike.