The appeal of dramatizing the inspiring story of Elizabeth Thompson, the pioneering Victorian military painter who fought to be accepted by the sexist Royal Academy, is clear.

But what Hull-based company Middle Child does with the material in their touring production of Modest is quite a surprise. Thompson becomes a role model for gender fluidity as the six strong cast present a dizzying array of characters in this theatrical, ribald mash-up of drag king swagger, music hall and cabaret glitz.

The energy in directors Luke Skilbeck and Paul Smith's production can’t be faulted, but the writing lacks depth and the sparkle fizzles.

Ham & High: Modest runs at Kiln Theatre Kilburn until July 15.Modest runs at Kiln Theatre Kilburn until July 15. (Image: Tom Arran for Middle Child)

With its irreverent and knowing tone, Ellen Brammar’s writing is not unlike the musical Six or TV’s Horrible Histories: at its best when the whip-smart put-downs and comebacks are bountiful.

A stuffy band of Royal Academicians are inviting submissions for their summer exhibition. The story shifts to Thompson (Emer Dineen) at home, a free spirit, belting out ‘A Talent Like Me,’ as she paints The Roll Call, a piece that became so popular at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition it had to be guarded.

But despite her indomitable spirit and hard work, the Academicians want to keep her talent under wraps. Similarly, her sister, Alice Meynell (Fizz Sinclair), a celebrated poet, is fighting to receive recognition for her verse. Brammar’s play gives the two sisters many scenes in which they debate and lament the sexist agenda and status quo, all rather drearily executed due to crass and repetitive writing.

Ham & High: Modest at Kiln Theatre KilburnModest at Kiln Theatre Kilburn (Image: Tom Arran for Middle Child)

Characters are never really explored. Bring on the garish visuals of the drag-king performances, well served by a set that conjures a tacky nightclub with a flexible curtain booth for plenty of sashaying entrances and exits. Or Rachel Barnes’ songs: not memorable but fun.

The ensemble is hugely talented and the fluid trans-gender casting a key part of the production. Comic timing is impressive as performers morph from satirized macho men replete with comedy Victorian moustaches to Queen Victoria in a pillar-box hat (a brilliantly malevolent Libra Teejay) and all and sundry snap into pastiche go-go dancer moves with wild abandon at any given opportunity.

Modest runs at Kiln Theatre, Kilburn until July 15.