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The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse

George Farquhar
Directed by Josie Rourke

Pros: A great play, some sublimely funny performances, and a highly entertaining evening.

Cons: None really, one slightly weak performance and a very hot venue (if those count!).

Our Verdict: Highly recommended, a very funny production which is well worth seeing, and a great start for Josie Rourke.
Care of Johan Persson
It’s all changed at the Donmar since I went to see Streetcar Named Desire a couple of years ago. Well, not all changed. The space is the same cosy and intimate venue it always was, and the exterior still looks like a brewery. The bar seems similar as well, and the programmes are still a slightly strange shape (long and thing). So really, the only thing that’s changed is the person at the top of the pile. At the end of 2011, Michael Grandage stepped down as Artistic Director after overseeing arguably the most successful ten years in the Donmar’s history. Enter Josie Rourke, whom we last saw at the helm of an immensely successful version of Much Ado About Nothing starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate in the Wyndhams’s. So whilst the newbie has the CV for this prestigious post, she also has some giant shoes to fill. 
I’m delighted to report therefore, that, despite my dramatic introduction, nothing seems to have changed at the Donmar. Rourke’s new production of George Farquhar’s 1706 play The Recruiting Officer is excellent, and a fantastic way to spend an evening. I’d expect nothing less from this much talked about venue.
During the interval, I remarked to my companion that I couldn’t believe Farquhar’s script is 300 years old. It is a very shrewdly observed piece of writing, and the language is easy to understand, even for simpletons like myself! The piece is a classic restoration comedy, complete with stock characters, a very busy plot and a lot of rakish behaviour. The plot is so busy that I can’t possibly begin to describe it, but know that it includes one night stands, cross-dressing, meddling maids and a lot of confused people. From the start, I thought it was a riotous evening of entertainment. 
Having seen Rourke’s production of one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, I am led to believe that one of her talents lies in bringing to life older pieces of work. The play is light-hearted anyway, but her directorial choices only serve to enhance this. The medieval band that double up as the recruits and keep hopping on and off with drums, cellos and flutes and singing (remarkably harmonious) renditions of ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ are excellent and keep the energy up throughout. Bizarrely, in the final scene they go on to create an almost moving moment as they down their instruments one-by-one and march off, having been successfully recruited into the Army.
So what of the performances? Mackenzie Crook takes a while to warm up, but his scene as the fortune teller early in the second act was my favourite in the play, an inspired bit of performance as he prances around spouting utter rubbish in a marvellously convincing manner. Mark Gatiss is wonderful as the flowery Captain Brazen and, along with Tobias Menzies as the arrogant rake Captain Plume, is involved in a number of hilarious moments; the sword fight with Plume in particular is brilliant. Aimee-Ffion Edwards was also excellent as the quick-learning Rose, creating a character that is simultaneously vulnerable and canny. The rest of the cast deliver good performances as well, although I thought Gawn Grainger was a little lifeless as Justice Balance, perhaps outshone by the other more interesting characters. The final mention is for Lucy Osborne’s set, which is simple yet mesmerizingly beautiful. I don’t want to give the game away, but there is something deeply enchanting about candles, even if they did create a hot auditorium. 
So a great start for Josie Rourke, and a highly recommended production, especially if you still haven’t been to the Donmar! I would say that on occasions I felt like we were the only ones laughing, but I blame that on the seemingly miserable audience (who even seemed sluggish in their applause at the end!) rather than the play or the acting, which really is first rate and which makes for a very entertaining evening. Who knows, maybe the heat of the candles had put them all to sleep.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

The Recruiting Officer runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 14th April 2012.
Box Office: 0844 871 7624 or book online at http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/pl142.html

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