BBC Radio 3, 18 December 2011
Jessica Dromgoole's production treated the play as a festive comedy,
in which class and gender divisions were briefly forgotten as the characters assumed different roles. Captain Plume
(Paul Higgins) became involved in a brief liaison with country girl Rose (Alex Tregear), while his braggart colleague Captain
Brazen (Elliot Levey) formed a similar alliance with serving-wench Lucy (Adjoa Andoh) - even though he believed he was going
to become very rich by marrying Lucy's mistress Melinda (Kate Fleetwood). Silvia (Lisa Dillon) readily assumed a male disguise
as Pinch, while Kite disguised himself as a female fortune-teller with a cod Hungarian accent. Plume and Brazen frequently
kissed one another in a display of familiarity that was quite at odds with their public image of aggressive masculinity.
By such means Dromgoole demonstrated how distinctions between 'male'
and 'female,' or the 'middle' and the 'lower' class are both socially constructed and extremely fragile. Neither
Silvia and Kite altered their voices when they disguised themselves: although the characters accepted them at face value,
listeners remained well aware that they were playing a part.
Dromgoole did not overlook the play's realistic aspects. The action is set in provincial
Shrewsbury during a lull in the War of the Spanish Succession: the soldiers have come to town to find new recruits (whether
willing or unwilling) to strengthen their forces. Through an ingenious use of sound effects linking individual scenes - the
sound of beating drums, snatches of popular songs ("Over the hills and far away,") and whistling - Dromgoole emphasized
the soldiers' perpetual presence in the rural community; they would only leave when their task had been accomplished. Although
Plume ended up by resigning his commission, he passed on all his recruits to Brazen.
On the other hand, Dromgoole stressed that The Recruiting Officer is a fundamentally benevolent piece of
work. The cast had great fun with Farquhar's innuendos: the exchanges between Plume and
the disguised Silvia were especially noteworthy, as Silvia took a long pause between the words "your" and "command" in the
phrase "under your command," while Plume responded in similar fashion by pausing between the words "the" and "command" in
the phrase "under the command of everyone else." The humour remained essentially benevolent: everyone willingly accepted
the restoration of social harmony at the end. Plume married Silvia,
once she had cast off her disguise; Silvia discovered that she has actually fulfilled her promise to obey her father Mr. Worthy
(Adam James); while Rose returned to her country ways with her brother Bullock (Simon Bubb). The production ended
with a celebratory dance performed by the entire cast. By now we could understand why The
Recruiting Officer should have been chosen by the convicts in the penal colony in 1787 (the subject of Timberlake
Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good, aired on Radio 4 the day before this production). Farquhar creates a world
where people of different backgrounds learn how to co-exist with one another.
Ably performed by a cast who clearly enjoyed themselves, this was an extremely funny
Our Country's Good on BBC Radio 4