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Review Round-up: Rourke's Recruiting Officer opens at Donmar

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Josie Rourke, the new artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse, opened The Recruiting Officer this week (14 February, previews from 9 February 2012), her first production at the helm of the Covent Garden venue.

A Restoration comedy, a new genre for the Donmar, George Farquhar’s 1706 play has proved popular with the critics.

The Recruiting Officer sees Tobias Menzies and Mark Gatiss as Captain Plume and Captain Brazen alongside Mackenzie Crook as Sergeant Kite.

The officers arrive in Shrewsbury to recruit soldiers for the Spanish wars. Intertwined with the continuous military tales are ribbons of twisted relationships and scheming women.

Nancy Carroll, Rachael Stirling and Aimee-Ffion Edwards join the male leads to complete an all-star cast that continue their limited run at the Donmar until 14 April 2012.

Michael Coveney

"Rourke plays a blinder: the stage, not the acting, is entirely wooden, and she somehow makes the pocket-sized arena larger … Captain Plume (Tobias Menzies, robust and likeable) and his rat-like Sergeant Kite (Mackenzie Crook, hilariously furtive and filthy) descend on Shrewsbury to press gang soldiers for the Spanish wars … George Farquhar’s beautiful Restoration comedy… a nicely complicated narrative with three plots and some of the wittiest dialogue and most elegant prose in the repertoire … The poodle-wigged fop Brazen is occupied by Mark Gatiss, all winks and smiles, and very funny, though not as lubricious … But the 'falling in love' part is beautifully done by Carroll… and Menzies … There’s a lovely performance, too, from Aimee-Ffion Edwards as the exemplary wench Rose … Tom Giles and Matthew Romain double effectively, and metaphorically, as musicians and recruits, and Gawn Graingert dithers good-heartedly as Justice Balance … So, a wonderful new start with a show that gives nothing but pleasure."

Charles Spencer
The Telegraph

"Though the comedy is often bawdy and robust, there is a generosity of spirit, and lack of viciousness about The Recruiting Officer that proves hugely attractive … This is one of those rare evenings when one wants to go through almost the entire cast merrily sprinkling praise and approval. The performances are almost all blessed with freshness and revealing comic detail … Tobias Menzies has exactly the right blend of swagger, lust and generosity of spirit as Captain Plume … Nancy Carroll brings a lovely mixture of warmth and keen good sense … Mackenzie Crook, fresh from his success in Jerusalem, makes an unforgettable Sergeant Kite … There is tremendous work too from Rachael Stirling as the heroine’s bitchy cousin Melinda … Mark Gatiss… proves a deliciously preposterous yet oddly endearing of Restoration fop, Captain Brazen. It is a terrific evening which suggests that after Sam Mendes and Michael Grandage, the Donmar remains in safe hands under Josie Rourke."

Lyn Gardner
The Guardian

"This play displays little of the fruity malice or camp of that genre, even if Mark Gatiss' absurd turkey cock of a Captain Brazen has the boo-hiss foppishness of a pantomime villain … Rourke massages it until it swells, and undercuts it with a touching wistfulness. At the end, the rather fabulous band … This is an evening that is clear-eyed, lacking in cynicism but also resolutely unsentimental … None more so than the love 'em and leave 'em Captain Plume (Tobias Menzies) who arrives with the unscrupulous Sergeant Kite (McKenzie Crook) ready with every trick in the book to gull the local men into signing up as cannon fodder. They are very good at their job … Rourke too proves herself a winner with this savvy, mischievous revival that is certain to drum up plenty of support for her new regime."

Libby Purves
The Times

"A hybrid between bitter satire and a conventional 1706 comedy of fops, deceits, bawdy, cross-dressing and romantic happy endings … It is an interesting choice for Josie Rourke… woven through with Michael Bruce’s folk and martial tunes from onstage musicians who play the recruiters’ prey … After the intensity and heart-shaking moments Michael Grandage has created in this space, the frothy Restoration tone at first felt odd … Rachael Sterling pouts … Mark Gatiss in a cascading periwig and rouge as Captain Brazen … Mackenzie Crook is Kite the recruiting sergeant … For all the hilarity of his tactics… Kite is the willing tool of officers too fastidious to face what they are doing. His talents are 'cozening and lying, impudence and pimping, bullying and sneering, whoring and drinking' … Rourke mainly keeps the darkness deep buried under hilarities and caricatures."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"Rourke has assembled an impressive cast … Farquhar's writing has less glitter and more vitality. Although this is conveyed here in terms that will be too broad for some, the lack of restraint is mainly a source of pleasure … Gatiss is splendidly preposterous as Brazen. Rachael Stirling delights as the haughty Melinda, a coquettish local, and Nancy Carroll brings a silvery fluency to her androgynous cousin Silvia … There's sharp work, too, from Nicholas Burns as Worthy. But the strongest performance comes from Menzies, relishing the ambiguous nature of Plume … The Donmar's playing space has been opened up invitingly and Lucy Osborne's design boasts a fairyland of candles. From the outset there's credibly rustic music composed by Michael Bruce … The result is a fresh, spirited account of a relentlessly busy play … It's an extravagant opener for the new regime at the Donmar. On this evidence, I'm recruited."

Paul Taylor

"Josie Rourke's opening shot is a gloriously witty revival of Farquhar's great 1706 play … We watch army recruiters descend on Shrewsbury primed to 'press' simple men into the military … The various members of the joyous band that has enlivened the proceedings, peel off one by one … It's an eloquent diminuendo to a production that beautifully balances the alfresco freshness of the piece and its often madly droll knowingness about theatrical convention … Nancy Caroll as a beguilngly mettlesome cross-dressing Silvia; the excellent Tobias Menzies who plays the philandering Captain Plume as a dishily grinning Hooray with a flashes of more complex hinterland … Painted face framed with beribboned poodle curls, Mark Sherlock Gatiss is in hilarious form … Mackenzie Crook is killingly funny as he glares through Groucho Marx eyelashes in improviser's panic in the scene where he poses as a fortune teller. Here's my prediction: this is going to be a great new regime at the Donmar."

- McKenzie Kramer


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