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Review: Dramatic politics in This House, National Theatre

Review: The Busybody and the but...

ImagesBit of a tricky one this because there was much to enjoy about the revival of this early 18th century comedy by Susanna Centlivre.

Its plot is standard fare: young people being kept from their beaus and/or inheritances by their parents/guardians except to add to the comedy, as the name suggests Busybody has a busybody - Marplot - who is nosey, gets the wrong end of the stick and generally makes things worse by trying to help.

The acting is a little obvious at times from some of the less experienced cast members but there are some genuinely funny moments and it is simply and effectively staged with just a few pieces of stage furnishing being worked very well. And, it will shock those who know of my views of musicals, there are also some nice little musical interludes (I'm not adverse to the odd song in a play I just don't want a whole album's worth).

Jessica Swales, who adapted and directed, adds effective little modern flourishes such as the opening 'number' which is about asking the audience not to run away because the play is written by a woman and goes on to name check a whole gamut of talented women playwrights right up to Anya Reiss.

But the but is coming: the problem is me, I didn't like Marplot. It's not the acting by Cerith Flinn or his interpretation but the character. I found Marplot cringe-worthy and irritating, much the same reaction I have to Mr Bean. I think I was actually rolling my eyes towards the end.

I also had slight issues with Sir Francis Gripe (Gus Brown) the lecherous old guardian of rich heiress Miranda (Alexandra Guelff) - he just made me feel more uneasy in a skin-crawl kind of way than a character like that in a comedy probably should.

Most of the audience seemed to be having a good time and for me it had some splendid moments - particularly liked Gay Soper's Lady Jealous Traffic and Ella Smith's Isabinda - but my own prejudices and preferences ultimately got in the way. Without Marplot I'd probably give it four stars, with I'm going to give it three.

The Busybody runs at the Southwark Playhouse until October 6.