Review: Lily

Gemma Sheehan 30 November 2016

This is a piece about a wake. Lily has died. Everyone is intensely moved. But not by her death, only by what it means for them – most of the guests hardly knew her. When the veneer of polite English grief gives way to the truth, the monster-egotism of her ‘nice’ friends rears its ugly head. Freddie screwing a co-worker at the back of the chapel when the service begins is a minor sin in contrast to the lack of humanity which the action lays bare.

And yet, none of the characters can really be said to be wholly bad, and neither are those whom they malinger. Rather, these are complicated people; subtly written, with layered, believable personalities. They are also, for the large part, very well acted. Os Leanse’s performance as Lily’s squalid drunk of a brother stands out. His violence and grief is poignant, even frightening. Emma Corrin’s performance is equally striking. In the role of the hyper-fragile and sick Annabelle, she conveys an eerie beauty somewhat reminiscent of Dakota Fanning, but also manages to make her character slightly suspect.

The dialogue, as well as the characterisation, is excellent. Delivered at a near-perfect pace and shot through with poetry, it may not always be quite realistic but it is certainly moving. Elegiac, sometimes gaunt and sometimes visceral, the drama is magnetic. Set in the claustrophobia of Eleanor’s (Molly Stacey) “museum”-perfect sitting room, the characters are forced into conversations they would rather not have, and the results are both tender and stark.

Haunting the room is Lily’s ghost. Vulnerable and venal, crude and heartbreaking, her friends do not know whether to call her monster or angel. The only scrap of fact about her is her brother’s beguiling anecdote about a visit to Balham to see an uncle, one “random night”. It is this descriptive mixture of ethereal uncertainty and intimacy which is so touching about Lily.  Isla Cowan, a Cambridge student and Corpus third year, is an impassioned and illumined playwright.

The music and staging was also good, if not amazing. The play opens with a taut, high-speed choreography of the movements and confrontations the actors go on to perform over the course of the play to the sound of electro noises, which was interesting but ultimately confusing.

Overall, this play was a rather more emotional experience than I anticipated. Brilliantly written, with a talented cast and some relatively good staging, it is definitely the best thing I’ve seen this term.