034 – The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar
It is 1704 in the country town of Shrewsbury. The army has come to town, or at least a few dedicated officers fresh from victory at the Battle of Blenheim who are here to recruit as many of the local men as they can connive to sign up to serve. While they’re at it, they don’t mind enjoying the pleasures of the local hostelries and of the local ladies. In turn the local ladies are also seeking to recruit for themselves: a husband who will take them away to fortunes new or be corralled to stay and support them and the offspring they plan, or in some cases have already been provided with.
This is George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, a rollicking comic satire of love and war, sex and deception, complete with singing and poetry and a woman pretending to be a man to win the love of her man. The play was an immediate hit when it was first performed at Drury Lane in 1706, and went on to become one of the most frequently performed plays of the 18th century, as well as a staple of educational curricula and theatre programming ever since.
There is also a personal reason for my choosing this play for this episode, and inviting my guest, director Matt Beresford, to join me. On the day that we recorded our conversation, Matt was in the final days of rehearsal for a production of The Recruiting Officer which he is directing for our local theatre, and he has been gracious enough to allow me to assist him in this project. If you happen to listen to our conversation before the 25th or 26th of September (2021), and are inspired to do so, you can still catch our production at the Teddington Theatre Club’s theatre in Hampton Hill, southwest London: click here for information and tickets.
He also continues to combine his business and theatre experience to coach teams and senior executives on communication skills and leadership and is passionate about exploring the parallels between theatre directing and creative leadership in business.
It is 1789 and a group of convicts in the newly-founded colony of Botany Bay in Australia are assembled to put on a production of George Farquhar’s Restoration Comedy The Recruiting Officer. The true story of this unlikely theatrical enterprise is the subject of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s award-winning play, Our Country’s Good, which premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 1988 almost exactly 200 years after the events it portrays. The play is a vivid portrait of the volatile new settlement in New South Wales, which raises timeless questions about what makes for a country’s good: the exercise of justice, the iniquities of class, the value of education and culture, and particularly of the redemptive power of theatre itself.
It made complete logical sense to follow our last episode on The Recruiting Officer with this wonderful play, and even more sense to invite Director Matt Beresford back to talk us through it.
Tom Stoppard’s ambitious new play Leopoldstadt is a sweeping work of history and ideas which charts the diaspora and decline of an Austrian Jewish family through the convulsive events of the first half of the twentieth century. It addresses profound moral questions of identity, memory and prejudice that are insistently relevant in our time. It is not only a towering intellectual achievement, it is also very personally poignant because it is based partly on Stoppard’s own remarkable family history.
Leopoldstadt opened in the West End in January 2020, only to be closed prematurely by the pandemic a few weeks later. Happily it has returned to the London stage this Autumn, and I am privileged and delighted to talk in this episode with the director of the London productions, playwright Patrick Marber.
Footnotes Volume 3 is a recording of the facts and observations that we’ve published on the website to supplement the plays that we’ve covered in episodes 24-31. A smorgasbord of trivia and analysis ranging from Greek Tragedy to the stock characters of Commedia dell’Arte , through the music of Bob Dylan, the filming of Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone during lockdown, and the theatrical installations of Samuel Beckett.
A compendium of dramatic intelligence!
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …