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Recruiting fans of Restoration comedy
WHEN you ask an actor last seen on the Salisbury stage as a brutal African warlord and on telly as a policeman in Lewis about his previous roles, the last answer you expect is “I played Helena in a Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
But Babou Ceesay is a versatile man.
The 34-year-old only took up acting nine years ago. Before that he was an accountant, before that he studied microbiology at university.
Theatre had always been something that interested him and each day walking to his accountancy job in London he used to walk past acting establishment the Poor School, and think about it some more.
Until one day he decided to go for it.
He got a place at the Oxford School of Drama, gave up his job, sold his house and moved.
“I have no regrets,” he says. “I’m loving what I do. The work is extraordinary, but what I love the most is all the different people I’ve met and had a chance to work with.”
He is currently rehearsing for Salisbury Playhouse’s production of George Farquhar’s 1706 play The Recruiting Officer – a far cry from his role in 2011 hard-hitting Bang Bang Bang at the Playhouse or the mildmannered DC Alex Gray in the last series of ITV’s popular Inspector Morse spin-off.
Directed by the theatre’s artistic director Gareth Machin, the Restoration comedy follows the efforts of Battle of Blenheim war hero Grenadier Captain Plume and his soldiers as they attempt to recruit the men of Shrewsbury for the war against the French.
“Nothing much happens in Shrewsbury at that time,” says Machin. “And then in come these amazing people in these amazing uniforms, and everyone goes a bit mad for a while, especially the women – the maxim seems to be that they’ll leave behind as many recruits as they take with them.”
Restoration comedy is generally marked by its stock characters, bawdiness and sexual explicitness. It has a reputation for being rather over-the-top.
Theatre had been banned for 18 years under the Puritan regime of the Cromwell years in England, and the restoration of the monarchy and the return of the theatre saw the stage transformed into a glorious celebration of simply being allowed to be.
But Machin has chosen a work tempered by the passage of years.
And actor and director say there is nothing crude or violent or anything to offend.
“It isn’t a pantomime, and it’s relevant now,” adds Ceesay. “There is something else that drives these people – recreation is very important when you’ve returned from a battle where 35,000 people were killed.
There is a drive to celebrate life.”
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