Frankie Thompson and Liv Ello have captured the zeitgeist with this kaleidoscopic, burnt-plastic-fantastic pageant of deconstructed brilliance.

Barbenheimer, meme culture, and body image are put under a flaming microscope, with this year’s frenzy for repackaged visions of gendered beauty standards being presented through a disjointed, edgy performance style that links it to 2023’s other cultural obsession: self-destruction.

They are the ultimate Barbie and Ken, frozen atop a singed, synthetic wedding cake that opens out to reveal screens projecting a slew of TV segments and vintage commercials. Against this, they perform fragments on a theme, playing with elements of disembodied Lynchian wasteland alongside lip-synced audio tracks of Bakeoff, the Traitors and Come Dine With Me.

They are at once themselves and a host of caricatures, embodying accents and heightened physicalities with gleeful abandon. Thompson’s Barbie spins through all the colours of wonder, confusion, and breakdown, whilst Ello’s Action Man bursts onto the stage with the most in-your-face brand of Andrew Tate’s toxic masculinity. These are smartly political enactments of the extremities of gender, laying bare the dark impact these can have on people’s bodies.

The piece argues that this is where the battle lines of capitalism are drawn, with the pressures and stresses of a thousand impossible expectations playing out through us and manifesting in myriad harmful ways. They describe theatre as a place to hold all of the damage wreaked on us by our culture. So many of the anxieties, pains, and preoccupations of the current climate are acknowledged here, with the interruption of Thompson’s lived experience of being failed by the healthcare system being deployed to devastating effect.

It’s a piece for our age of constantly shifting attention spans, of reeling from the falseness of commercialised beauty and the cartoonification of life. Pop culture melts into surreal interior darkness, keeping the laughs while pushing the limits of narrative. There’s not an ounce of wasted breath, and it winds a complicated set of ideas around a performance style that is so aware of what it’s doing that it cries out to be watched.

If you like strange, political, and cutting-edge theatre, this is a must-see show. If you don’t, you should try it, for it will surely stand out as one of this year’s defining shows.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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