Lilith: The Jungle Girl is unexpected and a show you walk into not quite knowing what you’re going to get. The outcome will impress.
On the surface, Sisters Grimm’s Lilith: The Jungle Girl is gender-bending fun. However, just below the surface, it’s about the fear of ‘other’, conformity and the hurt involved with it all. It’s 1861 Holland and pioneering neuroscientist Charles Penworth (Candy Bowers) and his assistant Helen Travers (Genevieve Giuffre) have been shipped a creature found living with lions in Borneo. After deliberation, Penworth decides the creature is a female human, naming her Lilith (Ash Flanders).
As Penworth and Travers conduct various tests to teach Lilith how to assimilate, it’s clear she’s being forced to be something she’s not. She has to decide whether to follow the human trajectory or embrace her natural state as a lion. It’s the conflict of choosing between conforming to become the person everyone else wants you to be or remaining true to yourself.
Immigration issues, oppression, heightened racism and finding a group to belong to are all portrayed in a surprisingly palatable way in Lilith: The Jungle Girl. Theatre has a wonderful way of exploring the tribalism-derived issues dividing the world and it’s particularly important to present as many points of view in as many ways as possible. Lilith: The Jungle Girl covers these troubling issues with a light-hearted façade.
These three actors share an incredible time on stage. They’re funny, they’re camp and they deliver every punchy gag wholeheartedly. Bowers and Giuffre are hilarious together and play off each other impressively well. Flanders’ performance as Lilith is mesmerising. He is bold, striking and viscerally wicked.
The limited amount of songs mean that their usage is more powerful. The intimate theatre space of The Lawler allows the actors to be heard without microphones or excessively loud speaking. Benjamin Cisterne’s lighting is subtle but adds to the humour – such as during “Kiss Me” – when needed and adds depth to the relatively flat areas of the set throughout.
Marg Horwell’s sterile black-and-white set is entirely covered in plastics and tape, starkly offset by a pink slime that covers those who are different. The use of a hospital-styled circular curtain is clever to change scenes and create dynamic moments. Lilith’s introduction is shocking and features Flanders sliding around aggressively and animal-like, and the noise the slime made will forever be scarred into my mind.
The usage of cartoon projections to add to the storyline is fun. Projected onto the central curtain, the style is similar to that of popular memes, allowing for a tech-savvy millennial audience to find further humour in the illustrations. They’re cutesy, graphic and an entertaining way to continue telling a story with a minimalistic set.
Lilith: The Jungle Girl is messy (in the best way), poignant and holds a mirror up to society’s double standards. It will have you laughing hard, then laughing again, and leave you thinking about who you are and your place in the world. As a newbie to Sisters Grimm’s work, it was as wonderful and refreshing as I had heard and hoped.
Lilith: The Jungle Girl is on at Southbank Theatre’s The Lawler until 1 October, 2016.