Chris Eldon Lee reviews Shropshire Youth Theatre’s production of ‘The Recruiting Officer’ at Theatre Severn until Sat 22nd March 2014.
Shropshire Youth Theatre is celebrating its 21st anniversary with a Shropshire play.
George Farquhar’s ‘The Recruiting Officer’ is set in Shrewsbury circa 1704 and is based on the author’s own experiences of visiting the town whilst recruiting for the French wars. I wouldn’t have wanted to be there at the time. The soldiers were pretty ruthless about press-ganging men for their armies and women for their pleasure. Whilst they removed the town of its young men, they also ensured the next generation of recruits.
Farquhar makes a farcical and, at times, sexual comedy of all this and thankfully the young cast don’t always get the more subtle innuendos. It’s difficult to deliver jokes about experiences yet to come, and somehow Farquhar’s frothy 18th Century text proves harder than Shakespeare for up and coming actors. And having filled his stage with characters, he proceeds to give them as many verbose lines as possible. So there’s a lot to learn.
Luckily, Shropshire Youth Theatre currently has an excellent front line of budding thespians to leap the obstacles. And, for once, it’s the lads who steal the show.
Lucio Gray led the charge as the affable, silly-ass Captain Plum; playing him with just enough Game Show host smarm to leave you liking him…but not trusting him. Lucio has the face and poise of an action hero and will do well in this acting lark.
He’s beautifully balanced by Scott Piggott’s world-weary Worthy. Scott has a mature, matter-of-fact and slightly downbeat delivery that cuts clear through the gaiety like a rusty rapier. He either poured over every word he had to learn, or has an intuitive understanding of dialogue.
It’s James Smith who supplies the flounce as the boastful Brazen, bouncing around like Tigger on a windy day; hopelessly extrovert and useless at courting. A latecomer to the plot, James carved a new niche for his character by trumping the red coats who’d gone before him with his over-the-top-ness.
But it’s Rhys Hart who gets the big laughs as the conjuring Sergeant Kite, running a fortune telling racket to predict riches for his recruits. He has a mobile face and the nous to use it to entertain the audience eye to eye. His enthusiasm was enough to make me consider taking his shilling.
I’d also like to praise wee William Wheeler, the drummer boy with very few lines but with the wit to give himself enough well thought out stage business to add an extra texture to the show. He has quiet comic potential.
The leading ladies were equally strong. Miranda Lowe was rock steady as the much-wooed Melinda. Her comprehension of the period prose was faultless and naturalistic.
Emma Owens is a star in the making. Her comedy timing is excellent and her transition to trousers conducted with aplomb. Here is a teenager who knows exactly what to do on stage. She poses well, speaks with her own, unaffected voice and attracts the limelight without hogging it. Her maturity in performance was perfectly demonstrated when she had trouble letting her hair down again…acting with one hand whilst fiddling with her fastening with the other. I hope Emma will herself be recruited one day …. by a jolly good drama school.
With so much coming and going on stage there was scarce room for furniture so the period was portrayed with some dazzlingly colourful costumes and authentic projections of Shrewsbury scenes from the time. The few practical scene changes were very effective as the screen was whisked away to reveal Judge Balance’s court and a gypsy’s grotto descended from above.
All in all, it’s a well-considered piece of theatre with lots of very confident kids doing their utmost to entertain. Being given lines like “I’ll have Shrewsbury burnt to the ground” didn’t half help.
There was a lady just in front of me who’d been in the same play in 1943, and she was loving it.
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