Pros: An ambitious play that raises awareness of the struggles of transgender people with a solid performance from the lead.
Cons: It could have done with more rehearsal time.
Lili is the story of the artist Lili Elbe, the first woman ever known to undergo gender reassignment surgery. It’s a rich and interesting subject. As a lesbian myself, I have more than a passing interest in the gender expectations society places upon you, so I was keen to learn more about Lili’s story. I had never heard of her before and also had no idea that this type of surgery had been attempted as far back as the 1930s.
Lili is part of the Camden Fringe and so, quite rightly, is an experimental piece. The Theatre Writers Workshop is responsible for the text, which was written during workshops in which they explored the diaries of Lili’s ex-girlfriend Greta. It’s a great and brave idea, but the play lacks the structure and substance that a tighter script could have given.
It was pleasing to see that the entire cast is made up of transgender actors, who can truly understand the struggles of the characters and who had been involved in the writing process. Lili is played by Simona Continente who puts in a strong, emotional and believable performance. James Le Lacheur gives a solid performance as Claude and Nando, although it was a little strange to see him playing two characters that looked identical. Some distinguishing features, for example in the costuming, would have been helpful in separating the two. Victoria Elizabeth, who plays Greta, seemed quite nervous but gained confidence towards the end.
The Etcetera Theatre is tiny, which added to the claustrophobic feeling of the lead characters being trapped in the flat together while their relationship falls apart. The resentful codependent intensity of the relationship between Greta and Lili reminded me and my companion of the film Whatever Happened to Baby-Jane.
The set is pretty basic: a black space, a few chairs and tables with cloths thrown on them and some paintings. The lighting is provided by either spots or full light. I thought director Liz Lees could have made a bit more of the space and created mood with more inventive use of props and lighting. The lighting queues were also a little clumsy: frequently the light came up whilst scenery was still being moved around. I think another day or two of rehearsing would have ironed this out, as well as calmed the nerves.
Overall Lili is a brave project which piqued my interest in finding out more about the real Lili Elbe. It could have done with a little more time for rehearsal to really finesse it, but it is worth a watch if you have an interest in the areas the play covers.
Author: The Theatre Writers Workshop
Director: Liz Lees
Producer: The Theatre Writers Workshop
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.