‘The Recruiting Officer’ Old Red Lion – Review
By Chris Parkinson.
Whoopee – the pantomime season has started! Oh yes it has, up at the Old Red Lion Theatre. They’ve got a production of Farquhar’s ‘The Recruiting Officer’ and it’s brill. A host of clever young things bring these old time words to life – rather better than I’ve seen done at the National actually. Now, before you waggle your self righteous Arts Council finger at me and seek to justify the wisdom of curiously overblown productions, let me explain. I had a lovely time at the National’s recent Beaux Stratagem. Yep – another Farquhar. It oozed with class and quality. Loved it. But then again, I’m one of those sad old farts who reads good old British plays for a laugh. And Beckett. And Genet. Oh and Marivaux. Etc. No really. Hundreds of them. Love ‘em. Makes me feel warm.
But at that show at the National there were a load of bright young things, probably all there to enjoy Susannah Fielding, but who both didn’t understand a word of what was being said. I know this ‘cos they kept saying things behind me like ‘I don’t understand a word of what is being said’.
I’m guessing two things.
One – they’d paid for a ticket and two – they wouldn’t be back.
So, to the Old Red Lion.
From the mouths of these actors, a play written in 1706 to parody the practices of military recruitment, genuinely sparkles. There’s no big shot actor here (is that why they’re not listed on the website? Shame on you!) – but give ‘em time I say. How Lydia Bakelmun (Sylvia) can make her every word so clear in a voice which is otherwise warm treacle to the soul, I do not know. Talking of enunciation, Beth Eyre is cracking as Kyte, a simple soldier trying to survive the mayhem while contributing roundly to it. Susannah Edgley skips easily between the roles of Rose and Lucy, and Charlie Ryall – well, there’s something of the Simon Russell Beale about her naturalness and ease in playing both Melinda, a lady of fortune, and Jack Wilful, a chap.
These are all stock restoration characters doing stock restoration things – men chasing women, women identifying as men to find out what men are really like, and men promptly marrying them when the women realise identifying as a woman isn’t in fact all bad, especially if you’re rich. Could have been written today.
But I digress. Who cares about all this clever stuff. We wanna be entertained!
So while our cast happily take a roundly light hearted approach to the play, Ben Garrison becomes the pantomime dame as cowardly, pompous, strutting Brazen.
And if that’s not enough to tickle your tickly bits, up pops Andy Secombe as Justice Balance – a one man Carry On team.
In this show, even moving the props between scenes – usually a too frequent and grating distraction in a small space – is woven simply into the action. Very thoughtful of masterful director Jenny Eastop.
I saw the show at a preview so I guess there were loads of friends of the performing folk around but, and this ain’t a word of a lie, some chap behind me who’s natural home was Dutch war re-enactments (I know ‘cos he said ‘I like to spend my time enacting Dutch WW2 battles when not polishing my brassware’ (Ed- Ooh, Matron!)) expressed his surprise at being able to understand pretty much everything that was being said. He loved it.
DaNah! There you go, Arts Council digit waggler: small venues are the very lifeblood of theatre. Here’s a lovely adaptation of a wonderful British play and an excellent cast all performing accessibly close to the audience!
Is there any better way to enjoy a marvelous play?