Review: The Recruiting Officer, Radio 3

“He that bids the fairest, has me”

So following on from the production of Our Country’s Good on Radio 4, Radio 3 then had the version of The Recruiting Officer as ‘performed’ by the cast of convicts. I love reading about plays I’ve never heard of – The Recruiting Officer is Josie Rourke’s opening salvo at the Donmar Warehouse so I’ll get to see it fairly soon – and reading about it, I was duly informed that it was the most popular play in the entire 18th Century (even more so than Hamlet…) and its other claim to fame is that it was the first play to be performed in Australia (though I suppose that assumes that there’s no theatre in the Aborigine culture). As I now know, this latter point is the crux of Our Country’s Good, which I rather enjoyed, so I was quite content to spend the second half of my journey finishing this double bill.

Sadly though, it wasn’t half as entertaining for me (and not just because of the devil’s spawn that got on my carriage at Crewe). The antics of this Restoration comedy – where army officers descend on Shrewsbury to seduce new recruits into bolstering the army and to seduce women into marriage and/or their beds – didn’t quite come across as well as I would have hoped. Having lost the physical side of the humour, I just didn’t really get into the right mindset for it at any point, it rarely made me laugh and not knowing the play, I was also quite a bit confused about who everyone was – I definitely needed the visual clues!

The lack of the visual side also detracted from the connectivity between the two productions for me. I rarely remembered that I was meant to be listening to the convicts playing out the play – it just sounded like Kate Fleetwood acting another part, rather than Kate Fleetwood acting as someone who was acting in a play – so in some ways it felt like a bit of a rather academic exercise. Still, it was well done to be sure – I’d listen to Adam James and Elliot Levey anywhere, along with Fleetwood and Adjoa Andoh (though I was a little perplexed as to where Lisa Dillon came from, don’t think she was in OCG) – and though I wouldn’t say I am completely converted, I definitely now more open to theatre on the radio. Plus my appetite is most surely whetted to see both these plays very soon.

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