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When young Phoebe Virtue (Ceciliah Appiah) travels to London to find her brother Jack (Matthew Broome) she is shocked to discover that he has embraced the debauched life of a hedonistic libertine.
Disguised as a man, she is lured into his cynical social circle and finds her own virtue at risk.
Meanwhile, impoverished poshie Lady Susan Climber (Rachael Stirling, magnificently louche) is being schooled in the use of social media to become an ‘influencer’ by Hannah Tweetwell (Aysha Kale).
Matters come to a head at a Netflix masked ball where many of the characters arrive in similar costumes causing all manner of identity confusion resulting in cross-gendered liaisons.
It’s all highly amusing up to a point. Bartlett aims at so many targets – woke sanctimoniousness, boomer self-interest, political hypocrisy, social aspirations, ‘deluded’ optimism, the rejection of motherhood, etc – that he runs out of narrative ammunition long before the corny denouement, having inflicted little more than flesh wounds.
Safe satire is no satire at all. The calculated artifice extends to the painted sets and the flamboyant costumes as well as the language and performance which includes an entirely unerotic sex scene in silhouette. As a theatrical pastiche, it is a triumph. But it’s a triumph of stylisation over content.
Lyric Hammersmith until May 14 Tickets: 020 8741 6822
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