Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Runs until February 20.
I think if you left a production titled Optimism without feeling even a little bit happy, you’d probably be somewhat disappointed. Thankfully this is not the case with Sydney Theatre Company’s latest production, showing as part of Sydney Festival. And for someone who really, really hates clowns, even this circus-themed visual extravaganza couldn’t dampen my mood.
Director Michael Kantor’s re-imagining of Voltaire’s classic 18th century novel Candide is a hysterical modern day look at if happiness can prevail in an age of economic downturn, global warming and terrorism. Frank Woodley steals the show as the perpetually cheery Candide who sets off on a global quest to find his true love – but the entire cast of Optimism is faultless. It is obvious how much fun they are having onstage, with fabulous ad-libbing often providing an unexpected highlight. Ultimately, it’s infectious.
Kantor’s approach to Voltaire’s work is unbridled and nothing is off limits – even Jesus gets compared to a poo; so if you have any unwavering sensitivities, you need to leave them in the foyer. In saying that, I have to admit the abundance of rape jokes got a little difficult to take.
Composer Iain Grandage, sound designer Russell Goldsmith and lighting designer Paul Jackson are to be commended on their incredible work on this production, with each element meshing perfectly and producing a visual and audio ride that is a sheer delight.
Despite the colourful exterior, Candide’s encounters with infidelity, war, religion, plague and the misfortunes of a series of globetrotters call into question the notion that everything will turn out for the best. And if you’re prepared to suspend disbelief and sit through ‘The Hamster Song’, it’s the most fun way I can think of to contemplate something so serious.