The play was written in 1800 after being commissioned by Sheridan for the West End, but due to the Napoleonic Wars the play was delayed and then lost. It was rediscovered in the 50s in the New York Public library, but still did not get its first fringe performance until 1993 in Bristol.
The play concerns Eliza, a young heiress who has returned from Calcutta to London. While in Calcutta she met a young man, Mr Cleveland, also from London. They plan to get married, but first they have to receive the approval of their respective parents. The problem is that Eliza's family originate from very humble origins and made their money in the City, and her lover's family are from the fashionable West End, who look down on Eliza's family. To complicate matters Mr Cleveland's brother attempts to win the love of Eliza, not knowing his brother's intentions, and The Hon. Miss Percival, a friend of Mr Cleveland's family, wishes to marry Mr Cleveland. What ensures is a series of farcical misunderstandings etc…..
Great idea for a farce, but unfortunately the play is just not funny nor credible enough. There are some good lines, particularly the 'put down' lines from 'Lady Wilhelmina Tylney', played superbly by Stephanie Beacham, but sadly that's it. Many of the scenes do not work, they go way past farce to childish, more suitable for 5 year olds than adults!! The actors looked a little uncomfortable at times with what they had to say and do. I was certainly embarrassed for them myself!
It is mixed fortunes for a cast ranging from very good to very bad. Out of compassion I will not mention the very bad, but the good include Stephanie Beacham, as the snobbish 'Lady Wilhelmina Tylney'. She puts in a commanding performance and made the play just bearable for me. This character certainly needed to be used more in the play. Sara Crowe as 'The Hon. Miss Percival, a dippy childlike woman, is sensational, although I'm sure some may find her irritable with her flighty performance. Crowe plays the character with a uniqueness that would be almost impossible to copy. She is a talented lady in deed. These two actresses saved my sanity!! But could not save the play.
The show has received a luke-warm response from popular press…. PATRICK MARMION for THE EVENING STANDARD, says it lacks "ready wit and satirical lash". He goes on to say, "Mostly, it's a souffle of characters fluffed up by the light-hearted energy of a jaunty storyline." IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "Fanny Burney's satire lacks the bite to make it a classic." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH liked the play describing it has an "enjoyable revival" and a "Belated Burney bonus". He goes on to say, "The play is constantly engaging, and sharply observant of snobbery and the English class system.." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE also enjoyed the show calling it an "Enticing Production." He goes on to say, "The best scene, set in a Mayfair ballroom....offers the most sparkling comedy." JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "A sparklingly entertaining piece of Regency comedy-farce about love, marriage, snobbery and the joys of the class war..."
'A Busy Day', had all the ingredients for a great comedy, but the writing was not sharp enough and needed a lot more work doing. I, and I'm sure by the subdued reaction of the audience, many others bravely endured the play until the end, but I wished I had followed those that left at the interval, including my guest!!!
It may have taken 200 years to get to the West End stage, fortunately it will not be staying for long!!