THE BUSY BODY
by Susanna Centlivre adapted and with lyrics by Jessica Swale.
Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 6 October 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 September.
A joy from Prologue to Epilogue.
This is a free-wheeling, intelligent production, in which director Jessica Swale opens-up the generous air and youthful springiness of Susanna Centlivre’s 1709 comedy.
There’s youthful energy in the playing of the senior characters. Grasping old Francis Gripe, forever fooled by the young woman he thinks desires him, is gleefully energetic in Gus Brown’s hands, while Gay Soper has a splendid tight-lipped comic style as an Hispanophile mother, done-up in full Spanish rig and insisting her daughter marry an approved Señor.
Against these, as in classical comedy, are the young lovers Miranda and Isabinda who utilise servants and think-up schemes, in a model running from Plautus to Molière and beyond. Except, here, the women are not subordinates within men’s plotting, but the inspired instigators of stratagems (as they tended to be in male-penned works when intentions were malign; Centlivre helped bring female intelligence into the light of comedy).
Ella Smith’s Isabinda has a smiling smoothness; Alexandra Guelff’s Miranda also smiles, with a skilful use of words to mask her intentions. Both show a lively skill in dealing with emergencies.
By comparison, the men seem clumsy. Despite Charles’s Harold Lloyd-like skills in climbing several storeys – handled by Swales with a theatrical bravado matching such small-scale epics as The Thirty-Nine Steps – he’s slow on the uptake when it comes to POS-like warnings in songs and signals from the women upstairs.
Still, he’s performed with precision and élan by Michael Lindall, among a lively, accomplished cast who carry off the style and manner with unfussy lightness and point. Notable are Francs Marshall, whose servant Patch is full of inventive detail, and Cerith Flinn. His Marplot is the title character, who has little to do in the story but unintentionally spoil things for others. Flinn provides him with a cheery, would-be friendly stupidity, slow on the uptake and quick on the give-away.
Swales adds some cheeky songs, employing a street ballad and a madrigal, providing a prologue listing women playwrights then till now. Among these she names “Lizzie Inchbald” as “a star”. Indeed, and a bright one who should attract her attention soon.
Miranda: Alexandra Guelff.
Isabinda: Ella Smith.
Lady Jealous Traffic: Gay Soper.
Patch: Frances Marshall.
Scentwell: Kate Marlais.
Fidget: Ruth Clarke-Irons.
George Airy: Matthew Spencer.
Charles: Michael Lindall.
Marplot: Cerith Flinn.
Francis Gripe: Gus Brown.
Whisper/Butler: Henry Shields.
Medley/Servants: Jeremy Lloyd.
Director: Jessica Swale
Designer: Simon Kenny.
Lighting: Christopher Nairne.
Composer/Musical Director: Harriet Oughton.
Assistant director: Chloe Wicks.