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Review of The Recruiting Officer at Tolethorpe





The outdoor theatre at Tolethorpe seems to have lost some of its love of Shakespeare lately.

In fact, Stamford Shakespeare Company has chosen to perform only one play by The Bard at its home theatre this season.

But The Recruiting Officer, with characters disguising themselves as men (or fortune tellers) to gain the upper hand and make mischief, feels just like Shakespeare - albeit with language that’s easier to understand.

Luke Skinner as Appletree, Matthew Robertson as Kite and Bill Bowden as Pearmain. Photo: Marc Moggridge
Luke Skinner as Appletree, Matthew Robertson as Kite and Bill Bowden as Pearmain. Photo: Marc Moggridge

Written by Irishman George Farquhar, a former recruiting officer for the British Army, the play has a confusing plot on paper - all intertwined declarations of love and intent - which is fortunately much easier to follow on the Tolethorpe stage.

This is down to the theatre company’s ability to attract actors that bring scripts to life, teamed with incredibly lovely costumes into which thought, talent and time has been poured. Midway through the first half, I had to stop myself ogling the trim on Thomas Appletree’s jacket.

Performances were typically strong across the board, and despite it being only their second night, some of the lead actors were comfortable to throw the occasional knowing look or sideways glance through the ‘fourth wall’, which gave the performance an intimacy that went beyond the faultless delivery of lines.

Queen of this on stage was Lucy Hobbs, playing the modern-thinking Silvia, who dresses as the highly recruitable Jack Wilful - one of several names in the play that indicates their character.

Lucy Hobbs as Jack Wilful, and Thomas Dorman as Captain Plume. Photo: Marc Moggridge
Lucy Hobbs as Jack Wilful, and Thomas Dorman as Captain Plume. Photo: Marc Moggridge

Hobbs had a touch of Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag about her style on stage, and when Silvia hears a fellow character say something mildly absurd, she locks eyes fleetingly with the audience to share a moment of comedy disdain.

Equally engaging is Matthew Robertson as Sergeant Kite, perhaps the most tenacious of the recruiting officers. Blessed with an expressive face, Robertson is at his best when his character disguises himself as a fortune teller to persuade a butcher he could be a brilliant army surgeon, and to meddle in the love lives of others. Dressed as ‘Dr Copernicus’ complete with a crystal ball, he is reminiscent of Graham Chapman playing a Monty Python character, and it’s certainly one of the funniest scenes.

The other lead who shines throughout is Thomas Dorman as Captain Plume, thanks to a strong voice that carries well in the open air setting, word-perfect delivery and an engaging style that makes his lines easy to follow - even towards the end of quite a long play.

Tolethorpe isn’t the comfiest theatre at the best of times, but with this production finishing well after 10.30pm, do go armed with a cushion, a coat and a coffee.

Matthew Robertson as Sergeant Kite pretending to be Dr Copernicus. Photo: Marc Moggridge
Matthew Robertson as Sergeant Kite pretending to be Dr Copernicus. Photo: Marc Moggridge

Performances start at 7.45pm and continue from June 25 to 29, August 1 to 3, and August 12 to 17. There is an 11.30am Saturday matinee.

Tickets: tolethorpe.co.uk or call the box office on 01780 917240.

Sophie Johnston as Melinda and Lucy Hobbs as Silvia. Photo: Marc Moggridge
Sophie Johnston as Melinda and Lucy Hobbs as Silvia. Photo: Marc Moggridge

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sense and Sensibility and A Monster Calls are also being performed at Tolethorpe this season.



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