Billie Piper’s glass-box rendition of the title character in Simon Stone’s 2016 production of Yerma was one of the most thrilling theatrical performances I’ve ever witnessed. It’s been quite a trajectory from child pop star to fearless acting talent, taking in along the way a stint as one of the more memorable Doctor Who assistants and, less wholesomely, a modern lady of the night in Secret Diary of a Call Girl, written by Lucy Prebble. Piper and Prebble join forces once more in what amounts to a masterclass in messy disintegration.
Suzie Pickles’ fame ignites as a teenager, with a Cowell-esque voiceover promising stardom. That was, as the ominous intertitle states, “Twenty Years Ago”. Suzie, whose career includes a regular appearance on a Star Trek-like sci-fi series, is living in a pleasant but slightly run down house in the country with her young son Frank and assorted livestock. The hens are marginally more interesting than her husband, Cob. Suzie’s bubbling over as her manager Naomi (Leila Farzad) has called with good news about “the Disney gig” (“Mummy’s going to be a princess!” she signs to a bewildered Frank), but joy is shortlived. She learns that hackers are about to release some “intimate” photographs and even dull hubby can work out that that is not his appendage.
It’s all going down the same day as a photo shoot at the house, entailing a huge contingent of set-dressers, make-up artists, photographers, dogs and their wranglers, and people who just hang about shouting into cell phones. The crew’s attitude to the star is a mixture of obsequiousness and barely veiled contempt, but veers more towards the latter as the photos start to circulate. It doesn’t help that the look they’ve chosen for Suzie for the shoot is based on Cruella de Vil. Her heavily made-up face contains a hint of the uncanny, like a skull with candle-flames in the eye-sockets.
Suzie’s distraught canter through the house in an “ironic” bloodstained fur coat, as her whole world collapses, is a highlight. Less so is the way the show doubles down on the “woman on the toilet” trope with audible plopping sounds. You can’t say Piper’s not game. Meanwhile faithful Naomi covers her client’s back as effectively as a small plaster on a knife wound. “No comment from us and it all goes away.” As if.
As a searing examination of the downside of fame, I Hate Suzie perhaps relishes its witty, insider satire a little too much. Suzie’s trip to a comic con in Birmingham brings more angst, along with a staggeringly louche turn from Dexter Fletcher as a shagged-out fellow thesp. Piper navigates the peaks and troughs of nasty comedy and abject misery with supreme ease. You won’t hate Suzie, but she’s not exactly easy to like either.
On Sky Atlantic/Now TV from August 27 at 9pm
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