The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse, March 2012
From all accounts my theatre going friends and I were incredibly lucky to secure tickets for this production as it is quite hard to get tickets for this venue without being a 'friend of the theatre' for any performance - let alone when it is a sell out 5 star play.
We knew very little about this play in advance short of it being a comedy written in the very early 1700s.
Our tickets were very clear in saying that late-comers wouldn't be admitted so we arrived in plenty of time and found that as soon as the auditorium doors opened there was action on the stage - with musicians and dancers lighting hundreds of candles. The theatre itself was tiny but the seats were very comfortable and even being sat at the end of the row at the side of the stage we could see everything.
The play itself was a real surprise, it felt like a real bridge between Shakespearean theatre and modern plays - the interaction with the audience and the use of space beyond the stage was very much like a production at the Globe but the language was modern dialogue and natural rather than poetic and rhythmic.
The action all took place in a very short space of time and followed the intrigues of both star crossed lovers and the unscrupulous manner in which people were press ganged into the army. From the very start the play was incredibly funny (and that is before the stage became slippery and a dramatic skid led to some corpsing) and in a way the whole experience reminded me of an up market pantomime with lots of playing up to the audience although luckily no actual audience participation.
The humour continued right up to the last scene when all of a sudden it became wonderfully poignant - the lovers had all been reconciled, the pseudo-baddy (a wonderfully camp Mark Gatiss) had got his comeuppance and overcome this and the recruiting officer had his new soldiers. Then the new recruits all stood in a line playing the traditional song "Over the Hills and Far Away" and through their actions remind you that soldiers go to war...
All of the cast were brilliant, each person inhabited their role completely and the skill of the ensemble to act whilst playing musical instruments, singing, dancing and acting as stagehands was a real stand out.
This was a thoroughly fun play to see and yet again a play that I came out of wishing I could straight back in and see it again.