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Lilith: The Jungle Girl

5 September 2016 | 11:55 am | Paul Ransom

"A quick tempo, wise-cracking rollick that peels back the layers on gender roles."

Throughout much of this often camp and ridiculous comic three-hander, it is apparent that the joke is on us and, more particularly, the comfortable and unchallenged assumptions we operate under.

When a young girl is discovered in the jungles of Borneo in the late nineteenth century and brought back to Amsterdam by the Dutch colonial rulers of Indonesia, the stage is set for a pointed and hilarious clash of gender, culture and personalities. Indeed, Lilith: The Jungle Girl swings between satire, panto and sketch comedy with switch-hitting savvy.

While neuroscience pioneer Doctor Charles Petworth (Candy Bowers) struggles to civilise the wild, lion-reared Lilith (Ash Flanders), his faithful and frustrated assistant Helen Travers (Genevieve Giuffre) battles just to be seen. Laced with elements of straight-up farce, Brechtian directness and drag show kitsch, Lilith is a quick tempo, wise-cracking rollick that peels back the layers on gender roles, sexual stereotyping and the very notion of 'us vs them'.

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With girls playing boys and vice versa, Lilith immediately pokes fun at both the silly and serious aspects of our expectations around gender. Beneath that, it lampoons the self-satisfied codes of normalcy that underpin bourgeois niceness. Given the predominantly polite, middle-class make-up of the audience inside the Lawler at Southbank Theatre, the joke was accurately and cleverly targeted.

Making it all gel is the dexterous comic timing of Candy Bowers; gloriously absurd as Dr Penworth. As the straight woman, Genevieve Giuffre adeptly balances Bowers' delightful buffoonery. Meanwhile, Ash Flanders undresses, cross dresses and minces around as Lilith, a fact that further underlines the sharp side of this mostly flamboyant comedy.

Sure, it's sometimes a bit obvious for its own good, but on the whole, Lilith: The Jungle Girl is smart, high-concept comedy that both amuses and mockingly accuses.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents Sisters Grimm's Lilith:The Jungle Girl, at the Southbank Theatre to 1 Oct.