Review: Privates On Parade, Pick Me Up Theatre, John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York, until Saturday. Box office:

IN these parlous-state-of-the-nation, Brexit-wrecks-it days of wondering what it is to be British in 2019, here is a devilishly prickly work doing some navel gazing at the absurdities of the Little Britain mentality and our post-war relationship with “johnny foreigner”.

The year is 1948, the setting Malaya, South East Asia, where the SADUSEA entertainment unit, led by drag artist Captain Terri Dennis, is staging concert parties to entertain British troops.

Penned by Nichols for a Royal Shakespeare Company premiere in 1977, triggered by his own National Service experiences with Kenneth Williams and Stanley Baxter, it is ostensibly a farce, but not of the light variety. A play with songs, rather than a musical, it makes an unholy song and dance of rape, murder, racism, military incompetence, Communism, homosexuality and homophobia in a jaundiced account of corrupt post-war colonial politics.

All this is wrapped inside Nichols’ hymn to entertainment, theatre and the outsider in a tale of queens and country, where Rory Mulvihill follows up his uncanny Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army with a performance as golden as the tints in his immaculate hair as Acting Captain Dennis. Perennial leading man of the musicals, Mulvihill combines those singing skills with gifts for parodying Dietrich, Coward and Carmen Miranda in Denis King’s period pastiche songs, coupled with waspish flamboyance and artful defiance.

Robert Readman has cast terrifically well, from Paul Joe Osborne’s brutish Reg to Andrew Caley’s zealous, blinkered Major Giles Flack; from James Potter’s innocent abroad, Private Steven Flowers, to Rachel Dennison’s abused but hopeful Sylvia Morgan, complemented by the joshing troupe lads (cheeky Andrew Roberts, potty-mouthed Andrew Isherwood, camp Adam Sowter and posh Iain Harvey).

Mulvihill is the star turn, but the parade of talent is as broad as the comedy, and there is poignancy too, while the musicianship of the hidden-away pianist Sam Johnson is a joy as always. Warning: expect “choice language and a smattering of flesh”, but no privates will be on parade.