Review – The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse

Tuesday 21 February 2012

60 years on the throne. Andrew is laying odds that the Queen will still be around to get that telegram off to Phil should he hang on a few more years. But what does the Jubilee really mean to the Whingers?

Royal cupcakes? Cliff, Elton and Shirley on a traffic island in the Mall? Huge anticipation that Princess Beatrice might turn up in a new hat? The Whingers’ preferred Jubilee line is that it’s an excuse (should we need one) for a few tinctures.

But before we unravel our bunting there is a coronation to celebrate. King Michael (Grandage) has abdicated after his ten-year reign – topically eschewing male primogeniture – leaving theatrically-minded eyes agog to see how comfortably the jewel-laden Donmar crown balances on the head on his successor Queen Josie (O’Rourke).

Prince Harry has taken his grandmother’s 5p and kicked off the Jubilee revels in the Falklands. Let us hope he wasn’t coerced like the soldiers bamboozled into taking the king’s shilling in Josie Rourke’s inaugural Donmar production The Recruiting Officer.

There was some debate before and after the show as to what is (and what isn’t) Restoration comedy. Some desultory research revealed George Farquhar‘s 1706 comedy sneaked in before the end of the period, which cleared things up for the Whingers, whose previous understanding of Restoration comedy assumed it referred to Joan Rivers’ latest facial surgery.

Sadly Restoration is all about overly complicated plotting, in this case men in love with women of position and fortune, people posing as each other, cross-dressing and in Shrewsbury no less. We got the idea, it’s Shakespeare but with some laughs. Very convoluted and confusing. We barely kept up.

But we have our excuses. Designers Lucy Osborne and James Farncombe (lighting) have opted for a set that gives no real sense of location and involves a lot of candles; hundreds of them (Phil’s abacus was overheating too) dripping from a large screen at the back of the stage and from massive ‘chandeliers’ above it, not to mention the flickering electric ones surrounding the circle. It appears no nook of the Donmar has been left uncandled.

Now this is all very pretty and appropriately festive and would have been all very well a few days ago when we were enjoying that rather chilly snap. In fact it would have made economic sense to save on fuel bills by turning down the thermostat and purchasing a £10 seat in the Donmar circle. But not now, with relatively clement weather; the Whingers had no idea cp could be this intense. It wasn’t only the candles that were melting in the circle; it was very hard to find our wits, let alone keep them about us..

Was this why we initially found things a a bit of a slog? Now the Whingers love silly shenanigans like the best of them, yet somehow things never hit the giddy heights of She Stoops to Conquer (which is not Restoration apparently).

Ms Rourke has left no stop unpulled. She has assembled a most starry cast all delivering satisfyingly robust performances: Mackenzie Crook as the recruiting officer Sergeant Kite, Tobias Menzies‘ dashing, womanising Captain Plume in love with Nancy Carroll‘s cross-dressing Silvia (putting Phil in mind of Juliet Mills in Carry On Jack – see right), Nicholas Burns‘ Mr Worthy who is in love with Rachael Sterling‘s camp and heavily panniered Melinda, plus Gawn Grainger dithering effectively as Justice Balance and Aimee-Ffion Edwards‘ impressive chicken-wrangling Rose/Mary.

Yes chickens! Live ones! Andrew perked up briefly and clucked appreciatively. Does Mr Crook have it in his contract that he won’t appear on stage without them? We haven’t seen a chicken on stage since Jerusalem (which also featured Miss Edwards). Nice to see they weren’t ‘resting’ for too long.

But even the poultry (and indeed the whole cast) were upstaged when Mark Gatiss finally teetered on in Act 1 as the magnificently foppish Captain Brazen giving the show a much needed flourish.

The best moments come in Act 2 when things had warmed up almost to the circle’s temperature and many involve Gatiss fopping wildly. A duelling scene when he affects an accent so absurdly amusing suggested that it’s a shame he didn’t keep it up for the whole evening. But the play’s funniest scene lands when Sgt Kite disguises himself as a fortune-teller – for romantic interference and recruitment purposes – especially when Brazen wafts in for a consultation.

The evening would have been much shorter without the extensive (though well delivered) musical interludes suggesting director Rourke is suffering from a touch of Hytneritis. The singing and instrument-playing quintet who interrupt the play finish it off with a rendition of “Over the Hills and Far Away” as they march off to fight. A strangely late attempt at poignancy after the over-the-top jolly romping which precedes it.

But that may be Farquhar*. Or maybe it was just us? The Whingers have no previous history with this play apart from Timberlake Wertenbaker‘s Our Country’s Good about a group of convicts putting on a production of TRO in an Australian penal colony. Discussing this of course led Andrew to reflect on his friend David Cottis’s greatest wish that Wertenbaker might one day marry Justin Timberlake, thus aquiring the moniker, well, you get the idea…


*The trouble with the name Farquhar is that its mention instantly clears everything from the Whingers’ minds apart from this:


5 Responses to “Review – The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse”

  1. margarita Says:

    Just to say Thank You for your entertainment. AND the Carry On excerpt.

    Maybe you could suggest an effective temperature at which to enjoy the candles without tedious suffocation symptoms.

  2. Lowenz Says:

    Actually, it is Prince William who has taken his grandmother’s 5p and kicked off the Jubilee revels in the Falklands

  3. Roger Risborough Says:

    The Whingers have got it right although I may go for half empty rather than half full. This is fluff really, albeit with some very nice performances (Gatiss, Sterling and Crook one step forward) and the musical interludes are fine, but Shakespeare does ludicrous plot lines and cross-dressing much better. Rather alarming to see Josie Rourke standing in the top circle leading the laughter – were some of the other loudest laughers in the rafters plants too? Leave the cheating to the love-crossed lovers on stage please Josie.

  4. Yusuf Says:

    Unfortunately yes – I too had the misfortune to have a laughing ‘plant’ in front of me last night – only this time it was Assistant Director Hannah Price in the centre stalls, desperately trying to ‘direct’ the frequently non-existent laughter every 10 seconds… Equally distracting was her scribbling pages & pages of notes during the performance and flashing a smile at the handsome actor-musician on the wooden platform above the stage when she thought no-one was looking…

    • Roger Risborough Says:

      Since this ‘plant’ issue at The Recruiting Officer, it happened again to me at The King’s Speech at Richmond. The person sitting two seats away from me at the rear of the stalls was laughing HYSTERICALLY at every line that had even an ounce of wryness in it. I had to leave at the interval – just too annoying. Like you, I prefer the performance to be on the stage rather than in the audience.

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