Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, lanterns surround the stage and a folk band performs to the audience; the romantic setting at the opening night of The Recruiting Officer is fitting for Valentine’s Day.
But this atmosphere doesn’t last for long. Soon we are introduced to a man’s notion of having “too much wife” and an indignant Captain Plume (Tobias Menzies) complaining “she was for the wedding before consummation and I was for consummation before the wedding.”
This attitude resonates throughout Farquhar’s 18th century Restoration comedy; while the recruiting officer, Sergeant Kite (Mackenzie Crook), tries to fool the impressionable men of Shrewsbury into enlisting in the army, Captain Plume is using his charm to enlist the opposite sex, much to the detriment of Kite, who acquires a wife and child in half an hour after being forced to take on the results of the captain’s bedroom conquest.
But there is one woman who Captain Plume would be happy to take as his own wife and that’s Silvia (Nancy Carroll). If their mutual disrespect for other people is anything to go by, they would be made for each other. With her brother’s life hanging in the balance, Silvia is set to gain her father’s inheritance or, as she so sensitively puts it, “if he dies, poor brother. If he doesn’t, poor sister.”
There is a resounding theme of insensitivity and disrespect resonating throughout the play but, despite this, you can’t help but warm to every character and laugh out loud at the incessant women-bashing and lack of regard they have for each other.
The deceiving Sergeant Kite’s combination of impudence, pimping, drinking and a musket, among other things, may not make him a great recruiting officer, but it does make him one of the play’s greatest characters, although it is hard to choose from this outstanding cast. Over-the-top dramatics from Melinda (Rachael Stirling), Captain Plume’s unexpected homosexual inclination and the general campness of Captain Brazen (Mark Gatiss) all add comic brilliance to Josie Rourke’s production.
With a flawless cast, “vunderful” accents, hints of slapstick humour and more disguises than a chameleon in a fancy dress shop, The Recruiting Officer makes for an extremely enjoyable evening.
The Recruiting Officer is supported by The Ruddock Foundation for the Arts.