A wild woman is discovered in the jungle in this absurdist satire
This comedy about a wild woman found living with lions in nineteenth century Borneo then brought back to Holland is so pathologically, exuberantly, relentlessly daft that I kind of wanted to zap it with a tranquilliser dart after about 30 seconds.
But call it Stockholm Syndrome, call it a stronger second half, or call it sheer berserk force of whimsy, but ‘Lilith: The Jungle Girl’ really did get its claws into me.
Created and performed by queer Australian company Sisters Grimm, ‘Lilith’ feels like a Monty Python homage as much as anything, centred as it is on absurdist gags and the pompous, patrician, Cleese-like Dr Charles Penworth (Candy Bowers) as he tries to civilise Lilith (Ash Flanders). Everyone barks everything in posh English accents (this despite the being Aussies playing Dutch people), everyone bar Genevieve Giuffre’s mousy Dr Helen Travers crossdresses, and there are even cutaway animated dream sequences (courtesy of Emma Valente).
There’s something impressively grotesque about the slimy, greasepaint-covered Lillith, and there’s sense that perhaps it’s flirting with some sort of more profound examination of identity. But at the same time it all feels overshadowed by a first half defined by jokes like the running gag about Penworth not being able to pronounce Travers’s first name properly (he thinks it’s ‘Heléne’).
It perhaps sounds unlikely that a scene revolving a pair of rapping lions was the one to convince me that this wasn’t all just extremely silly. But the showdown between the now ‘civilised’ Lilith and an obnoxious lion (Bowers again) who refuses to accept her into his pride clearly, sharply and amusingly casts it as a satire on those who would act as gatekeepers to the identity of others. Some of the stuff that seemed gratuitously daft earlier takes on a splash more resonance in retrospect: the Helen/Heléne thing, the fact there are obviously no lions in Borneo… I’m not sure there’s a brilliant point made with either of these, but it all feels a bit more calculated, a lot less like a bunch of aimless titting around.
It’s still somewhat flimsy and I’d imagine its ‘vibe’ is better suited to a later performance a couple of drinks down (it pressed at 11am and I’m happy to inform you I was entirely sober). But it certainly has something – I was sighing at the start; I was smiling by the end.