Optimism ***1/2

Voltaire’s Candide just might be one of the most important and influential writings of all-time.  An adventure tale told as a sarcastic parody, the story follows a young man’s spiralling disillusionment with the philosophy of Optimism.

Tom Wright’s Optimism is more of an original theatrical work that is inspired by Voltaire’s story than an adaptation.  Here, we see Candide, energetically played by Frank Woodley, thrust into a quest for happiness and his true-love.  This quest takes him to numerous cities and puts him on many airplanes, all of which are signposted by five monitors that are suspended above the stage.

There is no denying the absolute skill and talent that is on display here.  The ensemble acting is fantastic, with everyone, save Woodley, playing multiple roles in this all-singing, dancing, drama and comedy-fuelled clown show.  And director Michael Kantor has come up with a production filled with interesting images filled with imagination.

But the production as a whole feels like it has little substance.  It is nothing more than a vehicle for a big-name comedian and a bunch of shenanigans.  While that is not a bad thing, it does mean that the biting satire that the original was meant to be is not to be found.  Only the final scene in the first act, a poignant moment mixed with comedy, tragedy and heartbreak, shows the promise of a far greater show.  The second act is better, but it still is nowhere near as great a production as it could have been.

Optimism is a fun production filled with great images and some inspired performances.  However, its lack of emotional depth denies it from either getting under the audience’s skin or in leaving much of a lasting impression.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Optimism was part of the Edinburgh Festival and played at the Royal Lyceum.  It has since closed.


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