Oh, goody! Some original, intelligent, feminist and funny theatre! Yay. Bild-Lilli is my kind of play: a sophisticated one-woman show confronting some big issues with the story of one small (in stature) global icon: Barbie. Deconstructing Barbie is a cliche in the arts and this isn't what Knox does here, rather, she relates how a doll originally conceived as a cartoon character in the German daily Bild Zeitung then created as a novelty item for adults in the mid 1950s became Barbie, the sexless child's toy beloved of little girls everywhere.
Bild-Lilli could almost be classed as physical theatre with Knox as Lilli/Barbie portraying a doll tottering throughout on sky-high stilettos. The role is demanding one physically; Elena Knox looks the part and delivers it beautifully. My only complaint is that it was hard to hear; I missed a lot of her utterances, which was frustrating. The first scenes overdid the translation of the German voice over, I thought, but then it changed when it became too predictable. The humour creeps up on you, although the pace does drag at times.
Bild-Lilli however, tells a remarkable story and is presented with flair, humour and originality. A pop-cabaret show with original song and poetry plus snippets of various recordings from the day, Bild-Lilli makes terrific use of theatrical devices, the odd self-referencing aside standing out without being clever. The set includes a perspex cylinder packaging with some whizzy electrical effects, all aiding and abetting the story which becomes downright subversive.
One of the funniest scenes involves Lilli at the seaside accompanied by her doggy Poodle Scheiss, lowering herself onto a beach chair without bending her knees. She does get bendy knees once she is reincarnated in the US as Barbie but they come at a price. Lilli, the independent girl about town, is made to change her name, loses her cigarettes and is given an equally sexless boyfriend/ brother, Ken. She is also expected to become a fashion conscious lady with designer outifts, an assortment of accoutrements and a whole new set of personas.
There are many political aspects and issues associated with this story, ranging from the attitudes towards Germans after WWII, to western feminism being coopted to serve consumption, to the sexualisation of young girls, to body image – all touched on here with a great deal of flair and comic style. Barbie epitomises the pressure on young women being required to look like a 'doll' but to not actually be sexual, the contradictory double standard born in the 50's which western women can still struggle with. Barbie's story in a bizarre way reflects many aspects of modern feminism; she has her career girl outfits and bass guitar, after all.
Knox is a talent worth keeping an eye on.
Lull Studios and Malthouse Theatre in association with Arts Radar present
by Elena Knox
Director Elena Knox
Venue: Tower Theatre | The Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Dates: July 18 – August 4, 2012