Christian Brighty has carved out quite a niche (and a following of more than 411K followers) on TikTok, hilariously celebrating and satirising the world of Period Dramas.
From the murderous instincts of the Romantic poets to an overpolite highwayman getting critiqued by the public for not being forceful enough, his videos present a seductively tongue-in-cheek exploration of that bygone era.
But now – hang onto your bonnets – the comedian is bringing his online smash to the stage in the form of a saucy live comedy, Christian Brighty: Playboy.
Playing as a work-in-progress as part of Bridge House Theatre’s Vault Unlocked Festival, a hooded, cloaked figure strides to the centre of the stage to the strains of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy. He’s a swaggering, sneery amalgam of Bryon, Mister Darcy, Edward Cullen (with a slightly unfortunate resemblance to Motherland‘s Kevin). No sooner have we first met the country’s most notorious Regency rake than he’s abusing us for our general lack of pulchritude. Hard to imagine an audience being described as “Munters” within the first minute of a show. He’s a cad for sure. A libertine bounder. And predictably, we collectively swoon.
Before we can enjoy any more vitriol, Christian Brighty is struck by a quiver of Cupid’s arrow and he is a man transformed and suddenly besotted by various members of the audience.
This newfound romantic impulse leads him where else but to a Regency ballroom. It may not quite match the lavishness of Bridgerton, but with the use of some inventive props we are merrily taking a spin with the great and the good of the Georgian elite. This grand scene marks the arrival of The Duchess (and indeed the plot).
Despite the saucy blandishments of Naughty Susan, our reformed rake now only has eyes for the Duchess and so sets about a romantic odyssey to prove himself worthy of her love.
Christian Brighty: Playboy is a rich, heady, breathless whirlwind of inventive humour and smart ideas. The Regency world is glimpsed and debunked through an often surreal prism. While the subject of the show is very much in the wheelhouse of Jane Austen, the show unfolds more as a glorious Swiftian picaresque – never happier than when fully embracing unbridled flights of fancy. The unexpected arrival of Napoleon in the narrative is a showstopper; his departure hastened by some rather over-enthusiastic cannonballs from the audience is delicious and mischievous piece of absurdist theatre.
It feels churlish to nitpick at such a warm-hearted, good-natured show – but the production needs just a little more polish for it to be irresistible. Whilst many props are imaginatively deployed, the blowing up of a chastity belt took an age for little payoff. Similarly, when Christian is interacting with the off-stage voice of the Duchess, the sound quality on this occasion was regularly inaudible robbing the narrative of the dramatic push for which it was being used.
In a world awash with bonnet-busters such as Bridgerton and Sanditon, Christian Brighty: Playboy could not be better timed to lampoon their more pompous tropes. The show is a giddy confection: an engaging romp that hilariously debunks the world of period dramas while slyly questioning the sexual mores and gaslighting that underpins the genre.
The Recs doffs its cap and awards Christian Brighty: Playboy a swoonsome ★★★★ (4 stars)
The Recs saw Christian Brighty: Playboy at Bridge House Theatre as part of their Vault Unlocked Festival 2022