Wednesday, 4 September 2013



Directed by Lyndsey Turner

World Premiere

Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 29 August – 26 October

I met Mark Ravenhill once. He was very charming. I asked him what he did (he was introduced as Mark, so I didn't know). I really impressed him with my awareness of theatre. 

In a desperate attempt to compensate, I am offering the press release of his latest project. My contribution to the article was putting titles in italics, changing a 'xx' to 'uc' for one play title, and cutting out the notes to editors.

In the current intellectual climate, when repeats are as common as new work, Ravenhill's project is intriguing. It refuses to follow the easy routes of either traditionalism or complete re-interpretation, but seems to be a philosophical glance at a book that is as much about the ideas as the narrative.

Press Release begins.

RSC Writer in Residence Mark Ravenhill has responded to Voltaire’s classic novel in a new play which asks the question: Is it possible to be an optimist in today’s world? In the run up to the world première of this new play in the Swan theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon on 29 August, Ravenhill has adapted the entire book that inspired his play into tweets of 140 characters so that everyone has the chance to read and get to know the original book in advance of his version for the stage. These will be sent out daily between Wednesday 26 June and the opening on 29 August at the rate of eight tweets per day.

Ravenhill said: 'My new play is a response to Voltaire's classic tale rather than a 'straight' adaptation. Although it works as a stand-alone 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. I've worked on a new translation of the original, breaking it down into 140 character 'episodes' that can be tweeted eight a day over the next few months.

‘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. Very occasionally I've nipped and tucked to fit the 140 character form and sometimes I've repeated a character name or place to make each Tweet able to stand alone.

‘It makes me wonder which other great authors could be tweeted and which would be unsuitable. For instance, Dickens’ sentences and thoughts are too long. But maybe the best way to read Finnegans 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' belief in the book that this is 'the best of all possible worlds'. This got me thinking that it would be exciting to write a play set in a number of different possible worlds, each of them exploring the question of optimism in a different way. I enjoy stories such as David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Charlie Kaufman films such as Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, all of which use a number of parallel universes. And since I was a child I've enjoyed Doctor Who stories in which different worlds and times exist side by side.

'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'.

Mark's version of Brecht's A Life Of Galileo was recently produced in the RSC's Swan Theatre. His previous work includes Shopping and Fucking (Royal Court) , Mother Clap's Molly House, Citizenship (both National Theatre) and Pool No Water (Frantic Assembly). His plays have been widely translated and produced all over the world. He is the co-creator of the ITV sitcom Vicious.

The production is directed by Lyndsey Turner, Associate Director at Sheffield Crucible and The Gate Theatre, who has most recently directed Chimerica at the Almeida (transferring to the West End shortly) andPosh at the Royal Court/ West End. This will be her RSC directorial debut.

The cast is led by Matthew Needham in the title role of Candide, with Ian Redford as Pangloss. Matthew and Ian are both currently appearing with the RSC, Matthew in Titus Andronicus, and Ian in A Mad World My Masters. Susan Engel joins the company as Cunegonde.

The production’s designer is Soutra Gilmour, with lighting by Tim Lutkin and Christopher Shutt. Music is by Michael Bruce and sound by Christopher Shutt. Movement by Scott Ambler.

This performance includes strong language, violence and reckless optimism. Suitable for ages 15+

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