Ladies Advice for Ladies: De-Modernizing the Modern Lady

This cabaret/circus/burlesque fusion is upstairs in a conference room at the Ibis Hotel (on Grenfell Street) – a brilliant idea for a Fringe venue. Our hostesses, Florence Emily and Emily Florence, have decided to educate their audience of ladies (and that's all of us, by the way) on all the intricacies of being a lady.

Naturally, our hostesses (all the way from Canada) are 'on' the minute the audience arrives, welcoming and ushering them in corsets and terrifyingly large smiles. Their commendable energy did not falter, despite the small space and initially rather quiet audience. Interspersed with performances that range from bellydancing to a rather risqué poetry recital was vintage footage from days gone by – educational videos on hair, makeup and fashion. The audience interaction is gentle, voluntary and a great deal of fun – particularly the section on self portraiture. And the finale, without risking any spoilers, is absolutely brilliant.

It's not all silliness and fun, either – there's a subtle but quite biting undercurrent of satire in all this whimsy. “A lady must be accomplished – but not too accomplished,” Florence trills, “so as not to scare the men!” Not that it ever becomes didactic or tiresome, but an uncomfortable amount of this deliberately exaggerated 19th century hysteria feels familiar even today. Understated commentary is the best way to make a point, I've always thought, and Cafe O'Lait gets the balance just right.

This is a whimsical, funny, incisive romp through the absurdities of socially imposed femininity. Escort a few lady friends along.

★★★★