Highly successful in its own time, George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer is a wry restoration sex comedy with a subversive streak that mocks the pervasive and pernicious myths of militarism.
As recruiters descend on rural England with quotas to fill, there’s a scramble to untangle a web of thwarted romances before the regiment marches off, with Elliot Mitchell’s affably rakish Captain Plume at the centre of it.
Director Jenny Eastop leans into the silliness of the setup, giving the show an amusing, intentionally overblown tone. Performed on the same sparse set as Mercurius’ companion piece Indebted to Chance – which runs in rep alongside this production through November – the cast spend much of their time diving under furniture or skulking behind a curtain of hanging ropes.
Benjamin Garrison lays it on thick in a scene-stealing turn as outrageous braggart Brazen, doling out flamboyant flattery to great comic effect. Beth Eyre is similarly strong as the sly and manipulative Sergeant Kite, rounding up recruits with underhand tricks and dishonourable doubletalk.
Charlie Ryall’s adaptation shifts the action to the present day with a few asides about the war on terror, but nevertheless retains most of the original 1706 text. Though the company occasionally lose the thread of the crisp, complex dialogue, they make good use of every opportunity to undercut the daftness with some characteristically modern ironic glibness.
Richard Baker’s score echoes these contrasts, breaking up each scene with a bombastic collision of bouncy electronica, warbling flutes, and staccato military drumming.