Review by Raphael Kohn
How many more plays about drag are we going to have on the stages of London this summer? It’s not a problem by any means – there’s much to say about sexuality and gender norms using drag – and so one more, playing for the next three weeks in the Park90 studio space has opened.
It’s an odd little monologue, using just a man, a microphone, half a pint of beer and his thoughts for an hour. An exploration of masculine sexuality and loneliness, Candy follows Will, a northern lad, fairly confident in his masculinity and heterosexuality until he meets Candy. And Candy is no ordinary lass – she is his friend’s drag persona who fronts a band. With this self-discovery, Will delves into his journey over the course of an hour getting to grips with his attraction and identity.
It's pretty clear thematically, and writer Tim Fraser doesn’t particularly make things cryptic for us. Written very conversationally, it works well in the cabaret bar-inspired set by Alys Whitehead, through which Will can wander and interact with audience members. Will is a cheeky, engaging character whose dark moments are well balanced by levity, but after all that happens in the hour, doesn’t particularly feel as if he’s gone on a huge journey. Candy was originally a 15-minute short play, and in a way, it shows, with the narrative feeling a touch drawn out despite the play’s short running time. What we do discover in that hour, though, is humorous, intimate and enjoyable.
Luckily, the piece is well held together by Michael Waller, who gives an utterly magnetic performance as Will. With a glimmer in his eye and a smile, he is instantly likeable, and is a strong performer to carry us through the hour. Directing individual lines directly to audience members in certain seats, and making his eye contact feel well-felt for those at the cabaret tables, Waller is engaging and entertaining. ‘I’ve never told anyone that before’, he confesses to the audience in an intimate and heartfelt moment, and we can truly believe him despite this play’s long development and previous productions in various fringe venues.
In the small space of Park90, he has little set to work with, which is perfect for Candy. With only a blue floor, a microphone, and the walls of the studio redecorated with glimmering streamers, Alys Whitehead’s set leaves the focus on Waller’s Will, not overcrowding us with gimmicks in such a cramped space. The cabaret tables-style seating around the front of the auditorium never feels unnecessary or uncomfortable, simply serving to bring us closer to the action and give Waller an opportunity to invade the audience and interact a bit with us.
Thanks to Anna Short’s sound design, the original music by Stephen Waller and sound effects are never a distraction in themselves and complement the narrative beautifully. Jonathan Chan’s lighting only adds to this, bringing us from brightly lit cabaret settings with Will addressing us directly to the most intimate of moments, feeling as if it is just you and Will in the room, and nobody else.
It's a great exploration of fragile masculinity, and despite needing a slightly tighter script, an overall success. Pairing engaging acting with expert design, it’s a cracker of a show that deserves much more of a run than three weeks. It’s intimate, it’s entertaining, and it’s a joy to watch.
Candy plays at the Park Theatre until 9th September 2023. Tickets available from https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/cand
Photos by Ali Wright