Joanna Lumley once told an interviewer that the best actors take “bloody good care to breathe into every corner they find in their character”. She has a point. It’s as if director Jessica Swale has spent every waking minute of the last few weeks drumming this into her cast. Whatever she’s been doing, they’ve been paying attention, because this is an ensemble that knows how to inject detail and joy into character acting.
Kate Marlais, Ruth Clarke-Irons, Frances Marshall and Cerith Flinn in The Busy Body at Southwark Playhouse, London Photo: Robert Workman
“This is some blundering adventure” screams Charles, a put-upon young suitor, as we bound through Susanna Centlivre’s celebrated Restoration piece. He has a point. It’s a famous story of mistaken identities, marriage and money, only now the coquettish, ingenious comedy has been honed into an intimate lesson in making an audience laugh - sarcastic, touching, hilarious, saggy in places but no harm done, and more than that, it’s just really fun.
And because the spoils should be shared, it would be unfair to single anyone in particular out. However, a special nod has to go the musical minstrels who, as each scene melts into the next, manage to whip everyone up with marvellous original songs, written by Swale, which are funny and frivolous, silly and superb. If ever there was evidence that drama schools are still on the money, then the lion’s share of this young cast is it.