15 April 2012

The Recruiting Officer at the Donmar Warehouse

Farces have had a good showing in the West End recently with big shows like One Man, Two Guvnors and Noises Off so it is no great surprise to see The Recruiting Officer make another appearance.

The play is now a shade over three hundred tears old, as revealed by the language, but the themes and plot are as familiar today as they were then and the age is no barrier.

This was only my second visit to the Donmar and my first downstairs and my first chance to appreciate the cosiness of the space.

There are four rows of seats up close to three sides of the stage. I was in the third row near to one of the corners with a good view of the stage despite the shallow slope in the seating and the tall young woman in the front row.

As now seems to be common practise in theatres without curtains, the action starts while we are all settling down.

This time we were entertained by a small group of players and then some of the cast appeared to light the many candles that formed the main part of the decoration.

It worked well despite the unwillingness of some people to see the pre-play as part of the show and, therefore, took it as an opportunity to carry on talking. Why do these people even go to the theatre?

As the play opens we meet Sergeant Kite played by Mackenzie Crook, one of the several big names littered across the cast.

He is in Shrewsbury with Captain Plume to recruit men in to the army by any means possible. They also have ambitions with the local ladies. This is one of the rewards of a travelling solider and Sgt. Kite produces a long list of all his wives that he keeps to remember them all.

Capt. Plume's intentions are more serious and he has his eye on Melinda who plays hard to get with an impish vengeance.

Rachael Stirling was Melinda and won the acting accolades despite some very tough competition.

The actors all played to the crowd brilliantly, even involving a lady in the front-row several times by giving her things to hold etc.

They moved to the edge of the stage regularly to speak directly to us about their thoughts and plans.

There were lots of great moments along the way and the one that sticks with me the most was in the scene where Sgt. Kite was disguised as a German fortune teller tricking people in to joining the army.

The flamboyant Captain Brazen (Mark Gatiss) paid a visit and on his way out ignored the prop door and walked off through what was meant to be a wall with an I-can't-be-arsed shake of his head.

And it was the frequent moments like that that made the play. The story was farcical but fairly simple and needed more than the script to carry it, hence the star-strung cast and the strong direction.

The sign of a good craftsman is that they make difficult things look easy and that is just what all the creatives do here. It's a team performance that delivers a steady stream of fun.

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