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Why didn't The Recruiting Office blow me away?

The-recruiting-officer-do-007Finally got to see Josie Rourke's first play as artistic director at the Donmar last week and I think it might have been a case of too much hype. I'd been judiciously avoiding reviews and comments but a total blackout would involve disabling the internet and not speaking to anyone for months and so the good vibes about the production were penetrating my conscious.

I didn't dislike The Recruiting Officer indeed there is much to like about George Farquhar's restoration comedy.

The Donmar has been transformed, the wall behind the stalls removed gives an added sense of space, the costumes were outlandishly appropriate and there were some great, show stopping performances. And I loved the lit candles everywhere which gave the play a real sense of place in time.

The problem was I just didn't care enough about what was happening. It's a story of conspiracy to woo, to seduce the right partner and prevent your rivals from doing the same wrapped around a period when shady army recruitment practices were common. I suppose I didn't entirely warm to the characters enough or their enterprise.

Dare I say it a couple of times I started getting a bit bored. Total Film magazine used to and may still, I haven't seen a copy recently, draw a graph showing the peaks and troughs of entertainment value throughout major films they were reviewing and if I were to do the same for the Recruiting Officer, then the graph would look like foothills with a couple of notable peaks. 

Mark Gatiss can be credited with the first major peak. It was almost as if the audience was waiting for him to make his first appearance as Captain Brazen and uniformly heaved a sigh of 'yes we can enjoy it now' when he did appear. But then Gatiss's Brazen, sadly, isn't on the stage nearly enough.

Mackenzie Crook comes into his own as Sergeant Kite in the fortune telling scene and is generally another highlight, as is Rachel Stirling's Melinda although I did find her performance a bit too much at times.

But despite the best efforts it still felt flat at times. I was with @polyg who was seeing the play for a second time and she thought the actors weren't quite on beat for the first half an hour, so maybe I just didn't get to see the best performance. Or maybe it was just me, although @pcchan1981, who was my other theatre companion for the evening, had similar thoughts.

Or maybe it's just the play? I've had a few responses to comments on Twitter saying great production of a duff play but then I've had other others say it's made them see George Farquhar in a new light.

I'm going to remember The Recruiting Officer for the floral print seat coverings, Mark Gatiss' wig, Mackenzie Crook's scary glove puppet and Julian Rhind-Tutt sitting in the seat in front. It feels a little mean to not give it four stars because there were some great moments but those moments were wrapped up in 'meh' and it just doesn't quite measure up to other four star plays I've seen recently. So I'm going to give it three and three quarter stars - the wig gets a quarter star in its own right.

The critics pretty much unanimously gave it four stars with Charles Spencer awarding it five. It runs at the Donmar Warehouse for another week (April 14).


A nice direct link, Gawn Grainger was in ...some trace of her with Mr W. There are loads of second degree links but because I like Mark Gatiss I'm going to mention his via Sherlock and Andrew Scott who was in Cock.