The Recruiting Officer



  • A comedy by George Farquhar, who based it upon hisown experiences as a recruiting officer. It was first performed in1706 in London with Anne Oldfield in the role of Sylvia; later 20th-centuryactresses to excel in the part have included Edith Evansin 1927 and Maggie Smith in 1970. The play has been constantlyrevived and was an early colonial favourite; it was performed at Charleston'sDock Street Theatre in the 1730s and in the penal colony of Sydneyin 1789 (the first recorded stage performance in Australia). The plotwas used by Brecht in his Trumpets and Drums.

    The play concerns Captain Plume and Captain Brazen, who arerecruiting for the Army in Shrewsbury. They are assisted by the disreputableSergeant Kite, who is not above lying, cheating, and disguising himselfas a fortune-teller to dupe naive youths into enlisting. Plume hasfallen in love with Sylvia, but her father, Justice Balance, has forbiddenthe marriage. Sylvia disguises herself as a man and Plume tricks herfather into handing her over as a recruit. When the truth is discoveredBalance relents and allows the match. Plume vows to give up recruitingin order to "breed recruits".

    In 1963 the new National Theatre staged a production directedby William Gaskill and Laurence Olivier, who also took aminor role. Although keen to enter into the spirit of experiment thatprevailed during the theater's first year, Olivier was not happy withGaskill's idea of improvisation at rehearsals. "I don't likeimprovisation in rehearsal," he complained. "As soon asa director says, 'Try this, try that,' I think, 'Listen, chum, I cando that at home'." At one rehearsal Gaskill, Kenneth Tynan,and John Dexter all criticized Olivier for overacting; he was shockedat such an accusation but nevertheless moderated his performance.