Theatre Review: The Recruiting Officer. School Fields, Badgworth, Somerset
Convicts in Australia regained their self-esteem by acting in George Farquhar’s play about sex, Shrewsbury and soldiers, when the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay, as The Recruiting Officer is a window into the cynical and nakedly humorous motives of men and women in search of love, status and money.
First produced in 1706 the Restoration Comedy is the story of officers using the recruitment of new soldiers as a chance for womanising and corruption. And the women they are after are just as wily as the uniformed protagonists. The drama hinges on misunderstandings, cross-dressing and cynical attempts to get rich through marriage with true love triumphing in the end.
Rain and Shine’s production mixes high comedy with Anthony Young enjoying himself as Melinda’s comically opportunist maid and the wonderfully foppish Rob Keeves as Captain Brazen with authentic power dressing costumes and military accessories.
With just seven in the cast director Jonathan Legg made good use of the entrances and exits, and 18th century outfits and wigs to define the stock characters. Emily Morozow was excellent value as the rich heiress Melinda and was equally committed to playing the haughty wench Rose, managing to inject a spicy venom into her character’s lines and body language.
Ian Alldis as the towering NCO Sergeant Kite barked his orders with military grade decibels while the versatile John Cooper-Evans played three roles as Thomas Appletree, Mr Worthy and Valentine Steward, defining each part with clarity.
Pippa Meekings had the most fun as the heroine Sylvia Balance who is enthralled with the handsome Captain Plume played by the dashingly good-looking Ashley Shiers by donning a moustache and breeches and returning as Jack Wilful. A handsome couple indeed.
Written more than a century after Shakespeare’s heyday The Recruiting Officer has remained a popular comedy despite the two-dimensional characters and complex plotting. It’s core theme of seeking a better life through hitching up with someone of a higher status due to their wealth and good looks is as universal as the competing contestants in ITV’s Love Island or Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle.
The public’s appetite for handsome men in uniform, glamorous women, class, romantic rivalry and love triangles remains as strong today in Badgworth’s School Gardens as it did in the National Theatre’s 1963 production with Laurence Olivier as Brazen and in Botany Bay in 1787 when the transported convicts re-discovered their humanity in performing theatre.
The play is on tour until September in outdoor venues across England this summer with dates near to Bath in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. For a full list, tickets and information visit http://www.rainorshine.co.uk/index.html
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