The first thing you notice on entering the Donmar is that the decorators have been in; the walls behind the stalls have gone and some of the seats now have floral cushion covers - the new female regime has already made an impression! We were sitting next to Joise Rourke at the WoS Awards Show and she seemed remarkably relaxed about following the legendary Michael Grandage, but she already knew her first production was a winner. The Recruiting Officer is a riotous Restoration comedy of press gangs, bogus fortune tellers, gender swaps and countless romantic triangles. It's completely bonkers and far funnier than She Stoops to Conquer at the National. A very starry cast are on top form with Aimee-Ffion Edwards, singing prettily as she did in Jerusalem, as a stunningly dopey and libidinous wench. Rachael Stirling seems to have picked up improvisational skills from her partner Oliver Chris (...Guvnors), ad libbing brilliantly when she spotted Katherine Parkinson in the second row. A quintet of actor musicians provide a range of English folk songs (as well as an hilarious mobile phone warning) and also a Journeys End style ending as we are reminded that these men have been press ganged into service as probable cannon fodder. That's rather a downbeat ending for a terrific and marvellously ridiculous show which makes for a great start to the reign of Good Queen Josie. - David Baxter
30 Mar 12
Just great fun with a fantastic ensemble. Nancy delightful as Sylvia, Rachael over the top as posh Melinda, Mackenzie brillliant as ambitious Kite supported by a great cast&musicians. - ELisabeth
28 Feb 12
Josie Rourke proves here that she can assemble a wonderful cast. For me, the production was entertaining, but never seemed to fully harness the immense talents of the cast, sparking most fully to life when Mark Gatiss and Aimee-Ffion Edwards were on stage. Gatiss' preening smiling fop and Edwards' husky dizzy lovelorn simpleton had me laughing continuously. Mackenzie Crook's stint as a phony fortune teller and sly recruiting officer was also inspired, as was Rachael Stirling's phony posh accent. 3 STARS. - steveatplays
23 Feb 12
I wasnít very excited by Josie Rourkeís opening season at the Donmar, but I may have to eat a few words. Her opener is something the Donmar doesnít normally do (restoration comedy) and it gets a handsome production with a full set of great performances.
The theatre has had its biggest makeover since the 25th Putman County Spelling Bee. It has been turned into an 18th century playhouse with the stalls back wall removed, the circle railing replaced with a wooden one, wooden floors and (false) wooden ceiling, a painted back screen with candle holders and real lit candles, more real lit candles around the auditorium and three chandeliers, also with real lit candles! Lucy Osbornesí setting is warm, welcoming and gorgeous, as are the period costumes.
George Farquharís comedy takes place in Tewksbury where two army captains are recruiting using all means, fair and foul. Both have designs on different local girls, Sylvia and Melinda Ė who also has the attentions of local businessman Worthy. The girls fall out and Sylvia returns disguised as a man, Wilful, who both captains seek to recruit. Captain Plumesís Sargent Kite plumbs new depths of deception, thereís a lot of confusion but it all ends happily Ė except for the recruits. Itís a comedy but it does make a serious point about the treatment of recruits and ends with a powerful statement as they head for the war.
In addition to the lovely design, the use of music is terrific. The jigs and reels played brilliantly by five of the actors add much Ė including a delicious twist on the Ďturn off you mobilesí advice now common at the start of plays. The performances too are terrific, with Nancy Carroll and Rachel Stirling as Sylvia and Melinda shining and Tobias Menzies commanding the stage with great authority as Captain Plume. Mark Gattisí excellent comic turn as Captain Brazen suggests we need to see as much of him on stage as we already do his League of Gentlemen colleagues Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. The other two leads, Nicholas Burns as Worthy and Mackenzie Crook as Sargent Kite, complete an excellent set of leads and the supporting cast of eight are all excellent.
Somehow though it didnít add up to the sum of the parts; the first half in particular was uneven and didnít sweep you away anywhere near as much as the second half did. I donít know whether this is the play or the production. Itís not the complete delight the NTís She Stoops to Conquer is, but itís still an impressive start to the Rourke reign. Donít wear too many clothes though, as for some reason the Donmar is set at sauna level temperatures. - Gareth James
22 Feb 12
A wall's been knocked down and the seats are covered in chintz....oh a woman must have taken over at the Donmar. The fabric is vile and the lack of wall makes the actors shout to be heard, I hope both are temporary measures. As for the show, I agree with rds but not for quite the same reasons. The play really dragged but mainly due to the miscasting of comedians who can't act and some actors who can't keep up. The set looked like a theme pub. - coral
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