Ravenhill’s response to Voltaire classic gets RSC debut

Published: 30 June 2013
Reporter: Steve Orme

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s writer in residence Mark Ravenhill has come up with a new comedy Candide in response to Voltaire’s classic novel and has also adapted the entire book into tweets of 140 characters.

The idea is that everyone has the chance to read and get to know the original book before the play has its Stratford première.

The tweets are already being sent out at the rate of eight tweets a day (@TweetCandide) and will be sent out daily until the play opens on 29 August.

Ravenhill said, “My new play is a response to Voltaire's classic tale rather than a 'straight' adaptation.

“Although it works as a standalone piece, I believe audiences coming to the Swan Theatre will have their enjoyment enhanced if they read Voltaire's original.

“The direct, simple wit of Voltaire's style is perfect for tweeting. It's been a fascinating exercise.

“It has deepened my appreciation of Voltaire's writing: it's incredible to see how every single sentence of the book advances the story and how almost every sentence stands alone as a great quotation all by itself.

“It makes me wonder which other great authors could be tweeted and which would be unsuitable. For instance, Dickens’s sentences and thoughts are too long. But maybe the best way to read Finnegan’s Wake would be a tweet at a time.

Candide has long been a favourite book of mine. I wanted to explore Voltaire's satirical view of humanity's capacity for optimism and ask what it might mean for us today.

“I'm fascinated by Doctor Pangloss's belief in the book that this is 'the best of all possible worlds'.

“In my play, we visit a Venetian noblewoman's house as she puts on a play of the life of Candide, an eighteenth birthday party set in contemporary Britain which ends in terrible disaster, the offices of an international mogul as he sets out to make a movie based on a real-life story of survival, the utopian world of Eldorado where gold is worthless and sheep fly and, finally, the slightly-in-the-future Pangloss Institute, where optimism has become a thriving business venture.”

Ravenill’s version of Brecht's A Life of Galileo was recently produced in the Swan. He is the co-creator of the ITV sitcom Vicious which stars Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi.

Lyndsey Turner, associate director at Sheffield Crucible and the Gate Theatre, will make her RSC directorial debut with Candide.

She directed Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica at the Almeida and Posh by Laura Wade at the Royal Court and in the West End.

The cast is led by Matthew Needham in the role of Candide, with Ian Redford as Pangloss. Susan Engel joins the company as Cunegonde.

Other roles are taken by the current RSC ensemble of Ellie Beaven, Ishia Bennison, Richard Goulding, Kevin Harvey, John Hopkins, Harry McEntire, Ciarán Owens, Steffan Rhodri, Rose Reynolds, Sarah Ridgeway, Katy Stephens, Badria Timimi and Dwane Walcott, who are all in Titus Andronicus and/or A Mad World My Masters.

Designer is Soutra Gilmour, with lighting by Tim Lutkin and Christopher Shutt who also looks after sound. Music is by Michael Bruce and movement by Scott Ambler.

Candide runs in the Swan from 29 August until 26 October.