“The Busybody” by Susanna Centlivre.

Adapted and directed by Maria Plumb and Rod Thompson


(Play 2   July 2003)

Two young women of "marriageable age".
Two young men, interested in these two young women.
Two parents determined to keep the young men well away from the young women.
Two servants, full of cunning plans.
And one busybody.

This adaptation is available for presentation by other theatre groups.

Please e-mail for more information.

(artwork copyright Anne Monsour)

This wonderful romp was one of the first plays performed in Australia by a company of convicts , and is now adapted by the directors, retaining the witty dialogue, lively action, and comedic style of the original.
(This play may be the origin of the term “monkey business”).

The games of love and intrigue will delight audiences of all ages.

The Play

“The Busybody” was written in the early 1700's, but was almost ruined by the actors [of the first production – not ours!] during rehearsal. Robert Wilkes threw his script into the pit and “swore that nobody would bear to sit and hear such stuff”. It was a “silly thing written by a woman”. However the audience were “agreeably surprised, more and more with every act, until at last the house rang with as much applause as was possible . . . ”.

By the end of the season “The Busybody” was such a huge success that it led to “confused theorising about the capacities of female playwrights”1

For the next 150 years or so, The Busybody was extremely popular, so it was not surprising that Mr R Sidaway would choose it as an early production in his new theatre in the new colony of Sydney Cove. The play would have been known to his potential audiences, the free settlers, officers, officials, and their wives. They would probably have seen productions in the old country back home, and so would be comfortable with what they were to see.

The Sydney Cove production, by all accounts, was of high quality, with the convicts presenting their roles well, and the venture was considered a success. In fact Mr Sidaway found himself quite wealthy in the early 1800's. An Engilsh newspaper of the time reported with astonishment that “His sentence has been expired two or three years, but he does not wish to return at present, being in a fair way of making a rapid fortune”2.

The play then faded from public view, we could speculate that its plot line, with young women taking control of their destinies, and determining their own futures, did not fit well with Victorian era sensibilities.

We hope that modern audiences will appreciate this witty, romantic, and strong play.

The Playwright

Susanna Centlivre was born in about 1667, as Susan Rawkins (or perhaps Freeman). In her teens she joined a troup of strolling players, and/or attended Cambridge dressed as a man. Between 1700 and her death in 1723, she wrote nineteen plays, and was “the most successful female playwright until Agatha Christie”1.

Her plays include:

The Perjur'd Husband; or, the Adventures in Venice
The Beau's Duel; or, a Soldier for the Ladies
The Stolen Heiress; or, the Salamancan Doctor Outplotted
Love's Contrivance; or, Le Medecin Malgre Lui
The Gamester
The Basset Table
Love at a Venture
The Platonick Lady
The Busy Body
The Man Bewitch'd; or, the Devil to Do about Her
A Bickerstaff's Burying; or, Work for the Upholders
Mar-Plot; or, the Second Part of the Busy Body (or Marplot in Lisbon)
The Perplex'd Lovers
The Wonder: A Woman Keeps Secret
A Gotham Election
A Wife Well Manag'd
The Cruel Gift
A Bold Stroke for a Wife
The Artifice

Her own life seems to have been as exciting and scandalous as that of any of her characters, having a number of husbands, with some mystery involved in their departure.

The Adaptation

Cast: 6 Male, 5 Female

Playing time 2hr 15min including 20min interval (1hr 55min excluding interval)

This play was very popular in its day, and for at least 150 years, but is almost never seen these days. This is a pity. The play is very witty, and it is only the rather convoluted language that creates difficulties, giving the impression of a "heavy" play.

Our adaptation was very well received by audience members of all ages, and is now available by negotiation to other groups.

While conforming more closely to today's sentence structure, the adaptation retains the style of a "restoration/romantic" comedy.

We have reduced the playing time considerably, without changing the order or content of the Scenes. Acts 1 to 3 are played in 1hr 10min, followed by interval, followed by Acts 4 & 5, running 45min.

The Adaptation Process

The play is almost entirely in prose, and therefore we do not consider the sentence structure to be in any way sacred. The short segments of verse (usually at the ends of acts) have been left unchanged.

Changes were carefully reviewed to ensure that they did not detract from the character development, or plot development.

The biggest changes have been in the sentence construction. The original sentences are longer than is normal these days, with many qualifying clauses being used.

Any qualifying clauses that do not advance the plot, do not help define the characters, and are not funny, have simply been removed. In some cases, a qualifying clause has been removed which may have been considered funny in the 18th century, but has lost its humour by being out of current context.

In a few cases, a sentence has been restructured into a more modern form

Simple substitutions such as "you" for "thou" etc. were made, but some words of the period such as "zounds", "sirrah" etc. that are not in use now were retained, where they did not obstruct the meaning

It was considered most important that the first scene be easy for the audience to "connect with". If an audience member loses touch with the language early in the play, there is a strong chance he will not "re-connect", and be alienated right through. For this reason, the early scenes were read at a meeting of members of VP, very early in the adaptation process.

Later in the rehearsal process, several critical scenes were again played at a VP meeting, to gauge their understandability

Sir Jealous Traffic to Lady Jealousie

This fairly controversial change was made for a number of reasons:

Other changes

We have introduces a couple of obvious and deliberate anachronisms. These could be omitted, and/or others added.

In place of the several un-named servants of the original script, we used a single actor, given the name "Everywhere" (this name is never used in any lines, but was printed in the programme). Everywhere was, at different times, servant to different masters. He also started the play with the words "Let the play begin", and re-started after interval.

We have added to the chances for Scentwell to develop a character, mainly by adding a mimed scene. In early productions, Scentwell is not mentioned in playbills, and may have been cut, or considered too unimportant. In our production, the role was often very favourably commented on.

In our production, the servant characters, Patch, Whisper, Everywhere and Scentwell, showed the audience to their seats, sold programmes and gave out orange segments before the show. This created a rapport with the audience, and drew attention to what otherwise might be seen as minor roles.

The Directors / Adaptors

Maria Plumb has directed many plays at VP over the years, most recently “Arms and The Man” by George Bernard Shaw, and “Travelling North” by David Williamson. She has been a reader and script advisor for Playlab Inc. She has also appeared on-stage as Eliza in “Pygmalion”, Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker”, and more recently, she played the pivotal role of Margaret in David Williamson’s incisive play “Money and Friends”.

Rod Thompson directed “The Harp In The South” by Ruth Park and Leslie Rees, “Dancing at Lughnasa” by Brian Friel, and “Two Weeks With the Queen” by Mary Morris and Morris Gleitzman. He most recently appeared in “Arms and The Man” and “Money and Friends”. Rod was music co-ordinator and strolling concertina busker for Errol O’Neill’s play about the 1912 Brisbane tramway worker’s strike “Faces in the Street”

The Cast

(click on the character name for photographs)

Sir George Airy Damian Mead
Charles Shane Goodwin
Marplot Luke Monsour
Sir Francis Gripe David Jones
Whisper Michael Byrnes
Everywhere (servant) Heinz Brunner
Miranda Maria Becquigny
Isabinda Jane Binstead
Lady Jealousie Traffic Jenny Brunner
Patch Fran Campbell
Scentwell Emma Powell

The Crew

Stage Manager Audrey McKibbin
Lighting and Sound Anna Woodall
Costumier Leo Bradley
Hair Design Philippe
Set Construction Rod Thompson & Heinz Brunner
Choreographers Colleen & Wayne Lock

The Production

We have been fairly liberal with our “pruning” of the script. The language of the eighteenth century was a little over-blown, and we have attempted to make the play more understandable to modern audiences without compromising the style or the author’s intent. In doing so, we have also reduced the running time of the play to a length more acceptable to modern audiences. We hope that this meets with your approval, and any concerns of the “purists” are compensated for by our bringing out the “fun” of this sparkling and very clever play.

The First Australian Cast - 1796

Sir George Airy John Sparrow Transported for "feloniously stealing"
Charles William Chapman Stealing 400lb of lead from Stepney Church roof (in a moment of weakness?)
Marplot William Fowkes Painter by trade, transported for theft of trunk
Sir Francis Gripe Luke Jones Theft of clothes from a dwelling place
Whisper Richard Evans Theft of glassware
Sir Jealous Traffic Henry Green Hatter's agent and pickpocket
Miranda Mrs Fanny Davis Robbery (while dressed in men's clothing!)
Isabinda Mrs Greville We have no information about Mrs Greville, but her husband was a great theatre-goer, and pickpocket
Patch Mrs Mary Anne Radney Recieving stolen goods

The theatre owner, Robert Sidaway was transported for housebreaking, and highway robbery.2

The Culprits (Reprinted from the programme)

Susanna Centlivre was born in 1670 or thereabouts. In her teens she joined a troupe of strolling players, and/or attended Cambridge dressed as a man. Her own life seems to have been as exciting and scandalous as that of any of her characters, having a number of husbands, with some mystery involved in their departure. She has written at least 19 plays, including "Mar-Plot; or, the Second Part of the Busy Body", and/or "Marplot in Lisbon". Other plays include: "The Man Bewitch'd; or, the Devil to Do about Her" and "The Wonder: A Woman Keeps a Secret".

Maria Plumb (otherwise Thompson) and Rod Thompson have colluded on many previous productions, including "Dancing at Lughnasa" and "Two Weeks with the Queen". They have been guilty of libel and wilful vandalism in the devising of end-of year spoofs "Lack of Pies", "Hello Bolly", "Sorrento Dreams, or The Liverwurst Is Not Yet Ripe" and "The Boy from Briz - The (Real) Peter Allen Story".

Maria Becquigny was guilty of overstating "The Importance of Being Earnest", acted as lookout while "Daisy Pulls it Off", slept through "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and was implicated in shady deals involving "Money and Friends".

Jane Binstead used the old standard defence "I don't recall", when questioned as to which fairy she had impersonated in "A Midsummer Night's Dream". She committed crimes against the peace in "Arms and the Man".

Heinz Brunner started his criminal career with the misdemeanour of wilfully constructing theatrical settings to deceive the public. This inevitably put him on the slippery slope, until he now appears in the role of "Everywhere" the universal servant, his first serious crime.

Jenny Brunner confesses to the heinous crime of teaching speech and drama, and worst of all, many of her pupils go on to become professional actors! After being told "Don't Go Near the Water", she did so. "Arms and the Man" was her most recent offence.

Michael Byrnes' greatest crime has been suggesting "The Busybody" for production. Prior appearances before you honourable members of the jury were in court with "The Winslow Boy" and in "The Garden of Granddaughters".

Fran Campbell was last seen "plying her trade" in the taverns frequented by the soldiers and sailors of the Colony, namely those depicted in the Mt Gravatt historical play, "Mountain of Thunder".

Shane Goodwin is a first offender. He has been recruited to this life of theatrical crime by way of Iona College, where he was seconded to jury duty with "12 Angry Men". We expect him to re-offend and be hauled before the audience again in the future.

David Jones was found guilty of grand larceny, viz scene-stealing with coffin in "The Suicide". He was condemned to the Hulks and served his sentence playing to unruly crowds on "Bonaparte's Afloat" but kept his spirits up with "Snapshots from Home".

Damian Mead was drawn into the VP web, having fulfilled both of the necessary criteria following Anne Monsour's statement that "I will cast the first man to walk through that door". He was thus implicated in the spreading of "Rumors".

Luke Monsour is from the well-known recidivist and serial theatrical family known as "The Monsours". The crimes of the parents being visited on the children, he has recently perpetrated roles in "Snapshots from Home", and "Rumors".

Emma Powell was indicted for Gold-digging - under the alias of Miss L'Arriere in "The Solid Gold Cadillac". She was a leading conspirator in "Arms and the Man" and is up to her old tricks again in this production.

1 “Female Playwrights of the Restoration – Five Comedies” ed Paddy Lyons and Fidelis Morgan; Everyman
2 “The Convict Theatres of Early Australia” Robert Jordan; Currency House

“The Busybody” played at the Mc Elligott Theatre   St Laurence's College,  Stephens Road,   South Brisbane
Fri 4th July 2003 at 8pm;   Sat 5th July at 2pm and 8pm;   Sun 6th July at 2pm and 5pm
Wed 9th, Thu 10th, and Fri 11th July at 8pm;   Sun 13th July at 2 pm
(There were no performances on Sat 12th July)