Norwich Theatre Royal young stars in staging of Voltaire’s novella Candide

Kieran Crawford in Candide being staged by Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Company. Picture: Savanah Gra

Kieran Crawford in Candide being staged by Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Company. Picture: Savanah Gray - Credit: Archant

Perhaps the last thing you'd expect from a theatre company made up of teenagers would be a stage version of a 250-year-old philosophical novel.

'I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.'

For most of us, that quote is the only thing we know about French philosopher Voltaire; and actually, it seems that he probably never even said it.

But it's particularly relevant as the Theatre Royal's Youth Company prepare to stage their version of his 1759 novella Candide, which in its original form operates as a rejection of the doctrine of Leibnizian optimism and has generated debate amongst scholars for hundreds of years. This interpretation, however, sounds like it might not be quite so heavy on the philosophy.

In fact, it seems that Voltaire might quite strongly 'disagree' with what's being done to his book. 'Yeah,' says Tom Coath, one of the show's young stars. 'I don't think Voltaire would appreciate this version as much as his deep philosophical one. This is a bit more…tongue in cheek? We do make a bit of a mockery of his philosophy.' Cast mate Molly Cutter interjects: 'in the most respectful way, of course!'


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Perhaps the last thing you'd expect from a theatre company made up of teenagers aged 16-20, would be a stage version of a 250-year-old philosophical novel. They are performing it at the theatre's new Stage Two building this week.

Candide's director David Lambert, who also serves as director of the Theatre's Arts Courses, said: 'Voltaire's Candide was – is – a picaresque novel of the 18th century, a biting satire on contemporary morals and religion. Scott Hunter's adaptation takes a lot of liberties with it, and adds a considerable number of sheep. What more do you want?'

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This show probably isn't quite the philosophical seminar that the title suggests, then. So not just for tweed-jacketed professors? 'It's for everybody,' David explains; 'well perhaps not the very young, some of the jokes are a little bit saucy! It's kind of 'Carry On Candide', really – jokes come thick and fast, saucy and suggestive. It's not rude, but it is cheerfully vulgar!'

The play, written by Scott Hunter, tells the tale of Candide, 'The Optimist', who struggles through a series of hilarious misadventures in a quest to be reunited with his childhood love.

They're being performed by a cast made up of young people aged between 16-20, all of them playing roles which range from a heavily-accented South American Dictator, to cannibals, nuns and Amazonian princesses.

His journeys will be narrated by Pangloss the Philosopher, generous chambermaid Paquette, and the Old Woman with No Name and Only One Buttock – a description which sums her up neatly. The three of them will guide the audience through Candide's many trials, including fighting revolutionaries, being kidnapped by pirates, and surviving earthquakes.

It's an action-packed evening, and one which, incidentally, also promises to reveal the meaning of life…

t Candide, Stage Two, Norwich Theatre Royal, December 15-17, 7.30pm, £10 (£8.50 cons), £8.50 students, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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