The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse, London

4.00

 

Sam Mendes was a hard act to follow as inaugural artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse.  But Michael Grandage overcame that difficulty with flamboyantly flying colours.

Now he, in turn, sets a potentially daunting precedent for his successor.  But Josie Rourke, fresh from her triumphant tenure at the Bush  hereby serves notice that she is well on the way to having that problem licked.  Her opening shot is a gloriously witty revival of Farquhar's great 1706 play, The Recruiting Officer.  This is a late Restoration comedy which is notable for the way that it lets literal fresh air and pointed political controversy into the genre, as we watch army recruiters descend on Shrewsbury primed to "press"  simple men into the miliary by devious methods and manouevre haughty heiresses into advantageous hitch-ups.  Fittingly for Rourke's purposes, it is also renowned as a play that has often been used as  a launch pad -- all the way from the fact that it was the first piece of drama performed by convicts in Australia to the historical and geographical appropriatesness of its farily recently being the comedy that inugurated the new Lichfield Theatre. 

There have been productions (by Bill Gaskill and Max Stafford-Clark) that homed in more determinedly on the harsh realities, following Brecht's example in his adaptation Trumpet and Drums.  Here, Rourke proves that it is possible to register this toughness in a staging that is nonetheless irradiated with golden good humour.  Its shocks are all the more effective for stealng up on you slowly -- as in the sobering finale when, in a kind of elimination game as they sing "Over the hills and Far Away", the various members of the joyous band that has enlivened the proceedings, peel off one by one, as if hypnotised by the drum-taps of the departing militia.  It's an eloquent dminuendo to a production that beautifully balances the alfresco freshness of the piece and its often madly droll knowingness about theatrical convention.  This equipoise is announced by Lucy Osborne's envelopingly delightful set which is dominated by a folding screen depicting cotton-wool clouds against a blue sky and a muliplicity of candles that wax (so to speak) lyrical for the duration.

There's a similar canniness about the brilliant casting.,  Seasoned experts at this kind of game -- Nancy Caroll as a beguilngly mettlesome cross-dressing Silvia; the excellent Tobias Menzies who plays the pholandering Captain Plume as a dishily grinning Hooray with a flashes of more complex hinterland -- are mixed with actors who, just as good here, come with enlivening contraband from television and film.  Painted face framed with beribboned poodle curls, Mark Sherlock Gatiss is in hilarious form as the name-dropping chatterbox Captain Brazen, while, as ruthless recruiter Sergeant Kite, 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.   

Booking until 14 August; 0844 871 7624, donmarwarehoue.com

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week