Tuesday, October 3

Candy – Park Theatre

Candy is the story of a bloke who falls in love with the drag alter ego of one of his school mates. Knowing the premise, I expected a knockabout comedy with a few torch songs and a dazzling turn from a wig-wearing man in stilettos. Drag Race meets La Cage Au Folles. It’s not that. At all.

Essentially, it’s a skilfully performed monologue from Michael Waller as Will, who reflects on his life and this unlikely assault on his heart. It’s a testament to Waller’s performance that he manages to paint a vivid, emotional picture which is often quite moving, but more importantly, utterly believable. Waller is so committed to the performance that the audience can’t help but feel his pain and empathise with his predicament.

Many drag performers would love to catch the eye of their straight mate from school, but that gay daydream never happens. They are more likely to be met with violence if they got flirty with Darren the rugby champ while wearing lip gloss and sequins. The interesting aspect of this cracking script from Tim Fraser is that Candy, the object of his affections, is blissfully unaware of Will’s fantasies.

According to our sometimes-unreliable narrator, Billy/Candy leaves their home town at the first chance, moves to London, forms an indie band and then becomes a drag queen. There’s no tragedy, drama or trauma in this gay character who’s living their best life. The sadness and emotional core of this piece is that Will stays in their home town and does nothing with his life. When Billy returns, talented, successful and beautiful as Candy, it unravels Will’s grip on reality, but also reveals the emptiness of his existence.

While this show raises questions about performative gender and sexuality, it’s actually about mens’ mental health and an inability to express emotions. When Will talks about an attempted suicide, earlier in his life, it’s semi camouflaged in comedy and presented as an almost accidental aside. In many ways, it’s a way bigger story that the crush on his mate’s drag persona and it’s very telling that he plays it for laughs. It felt very real. That’s what blokes do.

When Will discusses his masturbatory fantasies about Candy, they evolve from dreams where Candy has a woman’s genitalia to the reality of dealing with his best mate’s erection. It’s almost an admission that he’s questioning his sexuality, but he can’t quite go that far. Michael Waller deserves major credit for pulling this off with authenticity and enthusiasm. In the wrong hands, such scenes could be excruciating, but instead it was gripping, sad and painfully honest.

Candy started as a short play selected from over one thousand entries for REBOOT: SHORTS at the Bunker Theatre in 2018. It’s been developed from an initial 15-minute version into this compelling one-man show that’s just over an hour. Thankfully, Candy wasn’t the show that was expected. It was consistently surprising and insightful with perfectly pitched mood swings. It’s encouraging to see such a unique and provocative piece of theatre evolve and then make it to the stage and reach wider audiences.

Candy is at Park Theatre until 9th of September, https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/candy

Reviewer: Stewart Who?

Reviewed: 25th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.