Miss Lilly Gets Boned or The Loss of All Elephant Elders is a suitably cheeky title for this mischievous new play by Bekah Brunstetter. It is perhaps a tad dismissive too, with the elephant part of this piece feeling a little underbaked in the midst of Brunstetter’s Richard Curtis-inspired comedy.
This is not to say that the elephant himself is not represented imaginatively in Lily Bevan’s lively production; indeed ‘Harold’ is played with heavy majestic grace by James Russell to great and often moving effect. But it is frustrating that the questioning of the rise in elephant aggression which has inspired this piece eventually becomes subsumed under the light comedy patter that peppers Miss Lilly’s (Lorna Beckett) fall from grace.
And what a fall it is. Beginning as the archetypal, perky born again Christian, Lilly ends up ignored (seemingly deliberately) by her beloved Creator. Her encounter with Richard (a dashing Will Kemp) and his son Jordan (the precocious Daniel Roche) leaves indelible stains on this innocent flower. Richard is in mourning for his wife who has been killed by Harold the elephant in a freak incident and, interspersed with Lilly’s journey, we see perennially hopeful animal researcher, Vandella (Sheena Patel), trying to prove that this beast can be redeemed.
On Libby Watson’s grey and pink Bible Belt set, the cast all have great fun playing characters that could so easily fall into stereotype but are constantly pulled back into recognisable and fallible human beings (and elephants in the case of Harold). As Lilly, Beckett provides a beautiful portrayal of a woman on the edge, trembling with each ecstatic moment, whether it be spiritual or corporal. It is a shame then that she seems to find the lines so funny herself, the threat of corpsing never far away. Sarah Goldberg’s whirlwind Lara, Lilly’s slutty sister, is tempered with just the right amount of pathos and Patel’s innocent Vandalla is hopelessly, and delightfully, endearing.
Evil, innocence and accountability for one’s actions are threads which run strongly through Brunstetter’s play. But in a rather diluted and bizarrely predictable ending she seems to lose her way, prompting one to feel that both Lilly and Harold have been slightly short-changed.
Throughout, however, interesting questions are raised about the role of victim and aggressor and Brunstetter has, with potent effect, deftly laced the inherent undercurrent of violence which rumbles through both humans and animals into her polished comedy.