When George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer first opened in Drury Lane in 1706 it was an immediate hit. Three centuries later SSA Drama do Farquhar's classic Restoration comedy justice in this brave and imaginative production.
Based on Farquhar's own experience as a recruiting officer, the story follows the dashing Captain Plume (Ricardo Alexander), a recruiting officer for the Grenadiers, and his sidekick Sergeant Kite (Liam Thorley). The pair have returned from the Battle of Blenheim in order to recruit in Shrewsbury. Plume is in love with the county heiress Silvia (Emma Benton) and his friend Worthy, a local gentleman, is in love with Silvia’s cousin Melinda (Bethany Hughes). But both women have recently inherited large fortunes, putting them out of reach of their lovers.
Silvia’s father (Simon King) sends her away to the country to distance her from Plume, but she returns to town dressed as a man and offers to enlist in the army with him. Meanwhile Kite is dressing up as a fortune teller in order to recruit gullible young men into the army, Melinda is strategically flirting with Captain Brazen (James Johnston) and her maid Lucy (Georgie Yarham-Baker) is trying to recruit a husband of her own. Directors Jack Bushell and Emma Benton relocate the story in World War II Britain to great effect. The costuming is nicely done, the set simple but effective and the soundtrack cleverly chosen.
Co-director Emma Benton stepped into the role of Silvia at the last minute but you wouldn't know it - there's something very natural and compelling about her on stage and she is charming to watch. Bethany Hughes shines too as the frightfully posh and scatty Melinda - the antithesis of Silvia. Ricardo Alexander leads the cast well as the cocky Plume and he and Thorley have good chemistry in their scenes.
Elsewhere Georgie Yarham-Baker somehow steals the show as Melinda’s maid Lucy with a wonderful stage presence and great timing. And there's strong support from SSA elder statesman Simon King as Silvia's father, who always impresses. Joe McElligott is strong as Worthy and James Johnston impresses as a wonderfully eccentric Brazen.
Given its age there's something very antiquated and Shakespearean about the construction of the story and even some of the language. As in modern performances of Shakespeare, skilled interpretation and direction are needed to get across the plot. On the whole this was done very well, but there were times the dialogue felt a tad rushed and you occasionally felt a little lost in places.
Overall though, this was an ambitious and well thought out re-imagining of a 300-year-old play, boldly re-positioned to great effect.
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