In their handwritten, photocopied program, The River People, the award winning theatre company behind Lilly Through the Dark, describe their work as “honest, handmade theatre”. This ethos is achieved through the innovative exploitation of limited means to produce a piece of theatre that is touching and visually stunning.
Lilly, a puppet as fragile and spooky as a Tim Burton character, is a little girl whose father has died, leaving her devastated and lonely. She goes to the Deadlands, a place between life and death, to search for him and along the way is helped and hindered by a collection of extraordinary characters - “storytellers appointed by the moon”.
Lilly Through the Dark is an exploration of storytelling and memory. The set is a cluster of books, from which puppets, props and even actors emerge. This acknowledges the use of mythology and fairy tale throughout the production, and literally brings stories to life through theatre. Both traditional and alternative narrative modes are used. The hardworking ensemble use voice, movement, puppetry and simple props to create beautiful, haunting images.
The traditionally low production values of the fringe are embraced and exploited to exhilarating effect; a strip of fabric is transformed into a river and an umbrella is turned into a willow tree. The atmospheric sound is provided by the actors’ voices and writer Edward Wren, who plays a mandolin onstage.
The macabre story of Lilly Through the Dark is thrown into relief by the innocence and naivety of fairy tales. The journey through the Deadlands is dark and scary, but along the way Lilly encounters kindness, humour and eventually, even hope.
This is a dark but magical story and this, coupled with its Tim Burton-esque aesthetics, make it an excellent show even for sulky, intelligent teenagers with a penchant for the gothic.