by George Farquhar.

Donmar Warehouse 41 Earlham Street WC2H 9LX To 14 April 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 17 March 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 2 April.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 871 7624.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 February.

Bright individuality in 18th-century revival.
Starting-out in sexist corner: perhaps it takes a woman’s touch. Certainly, incoming Artistic Director Josie Rourke, who shape-shifted then transplanted the Bush Theatre in her time there, and production designer Lucy Osborne, between them, give the Donmar Warehouse a warm inclusive feel.

Removing the stalls’ rear wall, along with the many candles of Osborne’s design, continued around the auditorium, combines stage and seating in a single perspective, making for the intimacy of somewhere we’ve been invited rather than one we’re merely visiting.

Lively live music energises the space, before wittily quietening to a reminder to switch off things that might go ping in the night. At the end, the actor-musicians take up the popular18th century number ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, used as a roistering recruiting song during the action, in a farewell symphony, its diminuendo pointing towards the reality of recruitment, offsetting, rather than undermining, George Farquhar’s comedy.

Osborne’s abstract and bare stage – two scenes apart, there’s nowhere to sit – is occasionally unhelpful. More usually it helps maintain energy, as music and lively entries sweeps scenes together.

The great 18th-century comedies are warm-hearted – ‘sentiment’ was the over-riding value – unlike the previous century’s attack comedy. But they carry hefty plots with many words, which can make this Shrewsbury-set story something of a Severn bore. Not here. From Mackenzie Crook’s initial recruiting spiel and sardonic comments alongside sharp looks suggesting he keeps his own counsel, this revival brings the play’s sense and comedy to immediate life.

Tobias Menzies’ strongly-played recruiting captain may not marry Plume’s opening cynicism about women with the true lover of later scenes; the discrepancy comes to light because of the production’s clarity. He’s contrasted by the pure comedy of Mark Gatiss’s snobbish rival captain. Nancy Carroll gives Sylvia a sympathetic energy, independence and intelligence that drive the plot’s moral intricacies.

The secondary story is less successful. Melinda opens with the pretensions, if not lexicographical inexactitudes, of a Mrs Malaprop, something the script doesn’t sustain, and her lover stays ill-focused. But mainly, this clear-sighted, warm-hearted Recruiting Officer deserves to have theatregoers enlisting for the Donmar in droves.

Sergeant Kite: Mackenzie Crook.
Costar Pearmain/Woodwind: Tom Giles.
Bridewell/Guitar: Stuart Ward.
Captain Plume: Tobias Menzies.
Mr Worthy: Nicholas Burns.
Melinda: Rachael Stirling.
Silvia: Nancy Carroll.
Lucy: Kathryn Drysdale.
Justice Balance: Gawn Grainger.
Thomas Appletree/Violin: Matthew Romain.
Rose/Mary: Aimeé-Ffion Edwards.
Bullock/Double Bass/Mandolin/Guitar/Baritone Ukelele: Peter Manchester.
Captain Brazen: Mark Gatiss.
Scale/Percussion/Baritone Ukelele: Chris Grahamson.

Director: Josie Rourke.
Designer: Lucy Osborne.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Composer: Michael Bruce.
Movement: Jack Murphy.
Dialect coach: William Conacher.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Hannah Price.

2012-02-19 10:56:54

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