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Ever the optimist - Mark Ravenhill on Candide

Playwright and Royal Shakespeare Company Writer in Residence Mark Ravenhill, tells us about his new play Candide, a response to Voltaire's classic tale...

Posted on 17th July 2013 by Waterstones
Mark Ravenhill

Writer/Director Mark Ravenhill - "I'm fascinated by Doctor Pangloss' belief in the book that this is 'the best of all possible worlds'."

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 Kaufmann 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 18th 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.

I've taken the same questions that fascinated Voltaire and created a work set mainly in the present day, with a story that parallels Voltaire's.  The question of optimism - how optimistic does each of us feel and is optimism the best approach in a world beset by natural disaster and human cruelty? - is very much one for our times.

I've written the play for the terrific ensemble of actors. Before they began rehearsing those plays, I was able to spend a couple of days with them. We read Voltaire's book and the first draft of my play and had a lively time discussing the current state of the world and our optimism or, in some cases, lack of it. Looking at what I've written it's funny in places, very dark in others, with lots to think about and some moments which may unsettle and disturb.

Rather like Voltaire's book then but with a totally contemporary approach.

Mark Ravenhill, for Waterstones.com/blog


Candide runs from 26th August to 26th October at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Find out more and buy tickets here.


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Waterstones Cardholders can enjoy a three-course pre-theatre dinner in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Rooftop Restaurant and get a top price ticket to Mark Ravenhill's new play in response to Voltaire's Candide for just £40 (saving up to £26.50). Find out more here...