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In Lipstick review at Pleasance Theatre, London – ‘sympathetic and warmly performed’

Caroline Faber, Alice Sykes and James Doherty in In Lipstick at the Pleasance Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Maud and Cynthia live together in a world of chicken nuggets, feather boas and Shirley Bassey. Despite being a couple, their relationship is basically that of a carer (Maud) and a social recluse (Cynthia). Their dependent set-up begins to break down when Maud starts dating Dennis, a security guard where she works.

Taken at face value, this is simply the story of an affair. But writer Annie Jenkins is careful to avoid making anyone the villain. There’s a sincere sweetness to the blossoming romance between Maud and Dennis, as they share a romantic picnic next to a park bin or awkwardly shag while watching Dennis’ beloved Arsenal on telly.

The cast are likeable and enjoyable to watch, in particular Caroline Faber who brings sensitivity and subtlety to her portrayal of the lonely and conflicted Maud. Alice Sykes, in turn, makes Cynthia chronically childlike and compellingly volatile.

Previous shows by Up in Arms have excelled in tenderly capturing the poignancy and pain of very normal stories. In some ways, In Lipstick is no different – it sympathetically depicts a believable and troubled domestic set-up. Alice Hamilton’s production is well-paced, letting the quieter moments breathe.

It’s a real shame, then, that all the good work is undermined by a overly dramatic and unbelievable final scene. The idea, presumably, was to end with a big twist, but it spectacularly undermines the play’s main strength: finding an odd beauty in everyday sadness.

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Warmly performed play about complicated relationships undermined by an unbelievable ending