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Posts Tagged ‘George Farquhar’

Restoration comedy can be a fusty and dull affair for a modern audience, but there’s so much flair and so many fine performances in Simon Godwin’s production that it scrubs up fresh, cheeky and joyous. When you hear Mrs Sullen’s feminist speech at the opening of the second half, its hard to believe it’s over 300 years old.

Two groups are on the make – Aimwell & Archer, gentlemen down on their luck, and highwayman Gibbet and his companions, in cahoots with the landlord of the inn – and the target of both is the riches of Lady Bountiful and her family. Lady Bountiful’s daughter Dorinda is in the market for a man to marry and her daughter-in-law wants rid of her drunken husband. No-one gets what they expected, but Aimwell and Archer do both get a wife. The presence of French soldiers provides another opportunity for humour, not all at their expense.

Lizzie Clachan’s three-story building transforms from inn to house and back again slickly and elegantly. The costumes are gorgeous and there’s a tea set to die for! Michael Bruce’s brilliant live music, superbly integrated within the play, contributes much to its success, and the song cues themselves make for a very funny running joke. Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfieild are a fantastic comedy double-act as Aimwell & Archer, very sprightly with great chemistry between them, as are Suzannah Fielding and Pippa Bennett-Warner as the sister and sister-in-law who are the closet of friends. There are so many other lovely performances, including Pearce Quigley as ever so droll servant Scrub and Jaimie Beamish as Folgard, a French priest who’s really Irish – his hybrid accent is a hoot.

This is the sort of thing the National do so well and it really compliments the rest if the current repertoire. Thoroughly recommended.

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If you visit the old prison in Freemantle, Australia, you can look at the records of those transported across the world for their crimes. One boy from South Wales had stolen a loaf of bread; he could have been an ancestor of mine. Still, I suppose their descendants in Australia today aren’t exactly unhappy!

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1988 play, based on Thomas Keneally’s book The Playmaker, tells the story of the first penal colony ‘down under’. Their crimes were petty but their punishment far from it. The military men who accompanied them were as merciless as the legal system which sent them, but one officer, with the senior officer’s support, attempts rehabilitation by staging a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer.

We start on the voyage and end on ‘opening night’ and between the two we peep into the lives of both the convicts and the enforcers and see their relationships evolve as they rehearse the play. Theatre proves to be divisive but ultimately redemptive. Anyone who has seen a performance in a prison today will attest to this. My visits to Wormwood Scrubs, Brixton, Wandsworth & Send have been amongst the most moving of my theatre-going life.

The play has now become a classic and a set text (cue schoolgirls with enough rustling sweet packets to open a shop, something which marred the first half until I escaped to a far away seat) and this revival resonates as much as the Royal Court original, perhaps more so given we have 50% more prisoners 25 years on.

It’s performed very well by a cast of 10 playing multiple roles. I was impressed by the earnest passion of Dominic Thorburn as Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, who directs the play within the play, and how Laura dos Santos conveyed the extraordinary journey of convict Mary Brennan. John Hollingworth doubles up as the senior officer Captain Arthur Phillip and Jewish convict John Wisehammer most effectively. Max Stafford-Clark’s staging moves swiftly and seamlessly between scenes on Tim Shorthall’s simple versatile set.

Great to see this multi-layered play still packs a punch and still makes its points so effectively after all these years, though I would have liked to have seen it ‘in rep’ with The Recruiting Officer as it originally was.

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