I went north to Keswick this weekend to see a double bill at the Theatre by the Lake. The Recruiting Officer and Our Country’s Good were (as is often the case) played together with the same cast. The first, a bawdy romp, is the subject of the second, as a group of transported convicts are encouraged to stage it by the officers.
By itself, I would have to be persuaded that The Recruiting Officer is anything more than an enjoyable nonsense, though it was delightfully done. But having just seen it a couple of hours before Our Country’s Good, the dissonance of seeing the same actors in a much bleaker situation, and the idea that it, of all things, is the play which, in the middle of the immensity of their situation, their characters intend to put on were striking and required that preparatory work. Like another experience I’ve commented on here, seeing it first was a kind of causal, rather than justificatory, factor for one’s subsequent aesthetic state.
As we were leaving (and, in effect, just as The Recruiting Officer was starting in Australia) someone behind me commented that we were watching the plays in the wrong order. But in a sense he was right. It would have interesting to see it again but now as a play within a play with the actor who had played Silvia playing her again but through her Mary Brenham (with her fake posh accent).
One further feature added to the aptness of the second play was seeing it in a small holiday town like Keswick. There seemed no very good reason why it would be better presented than the play within a play. That, I fear, shows a bias stemming from seeing theatre in either London or by the RSC. But being proved very wrong added to the pleasure.
Keswick, by the way, is a great little town, properly overlooked by its surrounding fells, rather than merely with one such fell visible in the distance like my adopted Kendal. It has some nice pubs and some restaurants and guards the northern entrance to Borrowdale, the best approach to Sca Fell Pike. Having spent a day in the theatre on Saturday, I could walk in the North Western Fells, freshly covered in snow (not so possible from the West End). It does, however, make Kendal seem like a thriving metropolis by comparison so I am not sure I’d want to live there.