Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Recruiting Officer at the Donmar Warehouse

I don't often see a play on its last night. I like to review everything I see in London theatre here, and it seems somewhat pointless to write about a play that's no longer running.

Still, there's something magical about a final night's performance.

The Recruiting Officer, a play written by George Farquhar and first performed in London in 1714, was well worth it, though. I didn't know the playwright, but the writing reminded me of both Shakespeare and (much later) Dickens; a woman dresses as a man and remains unrecognised until she reveals her true identity; the names of the characters are almost ridiculously revealing of their fate in the play.

But essentially The Recruiting Officer is a comedy. There are many belly laughs, and even singing. As you know, if you read this blog often, I do like the Donmar, but I hate, hate musicals. Thankfully the musical interludes were limited to the start and end of each act.

The story centres around love, money, and pride. Mackenzie Crook as Sergeant Kite is word-perfect. He's the epitome of a cunning recruiting officer, world-weary second-in-command to Captain Plume (Tobias Menzies). At the start of the play, the two men arrive in a well-known village to recruit more men to the Queen's army. The end justifies the means; locals are duped by any kind of trickery into fighting the French. But this village is like no other - the love of the promiscuous Captain Plume's life, Silvia (Nancy Carroll) lives here.

Mackenzie Crook
In another story line, a childhood friend of Captain Plume, Mr Worthy (Nicholas Burns) also has woman trouble; the increase in the fortune of his heart's desire, Melinda (Rachel Stirling), makes her too high-and-mighty for the modest Worthy. Instead she accepts the advances of the hilariously camp Captain Brazen, played by the excellent Mark Gatiss. His make-up is all slapstick, and his performance certainly lives up to this; I would say his comical timing is on par with that of my absolute favourite stage actor, Simon Russell Beale. His comedy act was brilliantly matched by Rachel Stirling as Melinda who with her new-found fortune puts on upper-class affectations. Her hot-potato-in-the-mouth accent is so funny, it made her cousin in the play, Nancy Carroll, struggle with her own lines. This was all part of the play and made the audience shake with laughter.

Mark Gatiss

Rachel Stirling

Nancy Carroll dressed as a man showing off her amorous side.
When further complications in the love lives of the two male leads emerge, the action becomes more furious. But the predictably happy ending for the two couples is touched by melancholy as the villages and musicians put down their instruments and one by one go off to war.

When then curtain fell, and after the cast - twice - reappeared to riotous applause, the audience was still not satisfied. A third curtain call by the theatre company was rewarded by a standing ovation from the audience. I'm sure I saw tears in many of the actors eyes as they stood there, watching the full house at Donmar whoop their appreciation. This was some final night indeed and a good start to the new artistic leadership of Josie Rouke after the departure of Michael Grandage, whose productions at The Donmar won many awards.

Talking of awards, on Sunday (14 April 2012) Ruth Wilson was awarded an Olivier for her role in Anna Christie, a play by Eugene O'Neill. The play also got an Olivier for Best Revival Play. You can read my review of the play here. (I also reviewed two other Olivier Award successes on this blog: The National Theatre's productions of Frankenstein, and Collaborators).

Donmar Warehouse
41 Earlham Street
Seven Dials
London WC2H 9LX


The forthcoming plays at the Donmar are:

Making Noise Quietly 
By Robert Holman

19 Apr - 26 May 12 

The Physicists
By Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt, in a new version by Jack Thorne
31 May - 21 Jul 12
Book tickets here.