The country gentleman, Justice Balance, played by Keith Heddle. @simonvail

Nothing says summer in Oxford like open-air theatre in the college gardens, and Oxford Theatre Guild’s The Recruiting Officer at Trinity College is the perfect light-hearted seasonal fare.

First performed in 1706, George Farquhar’s play was a huge hit at the time, offering a zesty reworking of the classic Restoration repertoire of rakes and repartee, duels and disguises, girls in breeches and men in (very dashing) uniform.

The ‘breeches’ role Silvia played by Olivia Rogers. @simonvail

The OTG production goes at this with gusto, swashes buckled and hats cocked, delivering all the sharp comedy of the original, interspersed with music and song. 

‘Like a light crisp rosé, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a summer day’

Set against the back-drop of ongoing war in Europe (the Duke of Marlborough had recently secured a famous victory at Blenheim, which would earn him a rather nice little pied-a-terre down the road from here), Captain Plume and his resourceful sergeant Kite are in Shrewsbury, on a mission to swell the ranks of their platoon by inveigling, enticing, tricking or – if necessary – ‘pressing’ men into service.

Arch villain Sgt Kite played by Richard Readshaw. @simonvail

That’s not all they get up to, of course.  As Kite wryly observes, “the sum total amount to a Recruiting Serjeant” includes an equally large proportion of “pimping, bullying, swearing, whoring, and drinking.” There are rich heiresses in town too, and fortunes to be won on wit alone.  

Being outside gives director Ruth Readshaw plenty of scope to make the most of her large cast, and both stage and grass are used to maximum effect.

Lavish costumes also help to establish the period ambience, and there are delightful comic touches like colourful hobby-horses.   

Triona Adams playing arch fop Captain Brazen. @simonvail

The actors were clearly enjoying every minute, despite the gale blowing the day we saw the show. At one stage rain literally stopped play, but only for a short while, and neither cast nor audience were at all deterred.

There were stand-out acting performances from Peter Todd as a dashing and appropriately be-feathered Captain Plume, Richard Readshaw as a stalwart Kite, Olivia Rogers as a feisty Silvia, and Triona Adams, stealing the show in a magnificent Charles II wig as the foppish Captain Brazen, a role once played with equal aplomb by Laurence Olivier.

The scheming maid Lucy played by Hannah Hasseloff. @simonvail

You don’t get many opportunities to see Restoration comedy performed these days, and there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Like a light crisp rosé, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a summer day.

Lynn Shepherd

The Recruiting Officer runs at Trinity College until Saturday July 22. Tickets at