Tuesday, 1 April 1997

Candide - Voltaire, April 1, 1997

Candide by Voltaire
By Melbourne Maskworks
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
7pm Trades Hall until April 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on April 1, 1997

Melbourne has only one exclusively mask-based theatre company. Ironically, it is called Melbourne Maskworks. Their newest work is based on Voltaire's novel , Candide, and is performed in the style of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, ancestor of our European clown tradition.

Mask designer, Sylvia Rech, has created a superb collection of characters. The masks define the characters' tone, mood and class. In conjunction with the slapstick of the Commedia, these broad stock characters come to life.

The front-stage has a waist-high curtain allowing director, Peter Donohue (also mask-maker) to create comic illusions. Actors roll on, floating in a ship and make surprise appearances from below curtain level.

There are some hilarious moments, particularly from the impeccable timed of Russell Fletcher, Genevieve Morris and Paul Bongiovannni in multiple roles. Fletcher's know-all Professor Pangloss blusters and pontificates, Morris is hilarious as the long-suffering maid and Bongiovanni's Spanish sailor, Cacombo, is a wonderfully deadpan recurring cameo.

The hapless Candide (Bruce Gladwin) scours the world for his love, Cunegonde (Maria Theodorakis) encountering violent armies, the cheery king of Eldorado, and a Spanish Inquisitor resembling a Ku Klux Klan leader.

The story is told by a side-stage Narrator (Donohue) which, unhappily, was a major flaw. The problem may have been that I saw a final preview, but the narration was so low-key, unanimated and, at times, inaudible that it was more a distraction than an enhancement. The accompanying live guitarist (Anne McCue) was an atmospheric addition and the whole piece is fun.


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