A chorus of, “She is pretty fit, how did you get her?” is not quite what one expects in the wedding scene of your average restoration comedy.
And yet The Busy Body by famed 18th century actress and playwright Susanna Centlivre proves itself to be anything but average. Indeed, this new production establishes this almost immediately with an opening musical interlude so bursting with girl power that the Spice Girls would have been proud. This musical acknowledgement of female playwrights throughout history instantly sets the tone for a piece in which a lady’s fan becomes a dangerous weapon and huge skirts are worn merely to conceal one’s lover.
What is absolutely thrilling about this production is its sheer naughtiness. The musical interludes that serve both to mock the characters and support them in times of crisis are a delight and add to a wonderful sense of mischief that runs through the entire piece. Particularly embodying this naughty quality is Ella Smith as Isabinda. One half of a fantastic double act shared with Frances Marshall as her maid Patch, this pair really do need their own sitcom. Quibbling and squealing like two little school girls, their comedic skills shine through in a script that should be sought after by funny women everywhere.
And yet every performance within this piece, regardless of gender, is a gem, whether it be Matthew Spencer as the hopeless but charming Sir George or Gay Soper giving Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey a run for her money as the formidable Lady Jealous.
As is usual with restoration comedies, the stage is a chaos of mistaken identities and love proposals and yet Malprop, the source of this confusion and the busy body in question, is strangely sidelined despite an excellent performance from Cerith Flinn. This adds further to the idea of a restoration comedy stripped bare of its usual features to reveal something fresh and exciting.
The minimal set serves this idea well and places even more of an emphasis upon the actors as they whirl across the stage in a hurricane of confusion. This infectious energy often overspills into the audience itself and, as it draws to a conclusion, leaves you giddy and breathless with laughter as a we leave a real triumph for the Southwark Playhouse.