Tommy is scared of everything and has an anxiety disorder. Jordan is free and inquisitive but having trouble at home. Tommy likes to wear make up… Maybe Jordan does a bit too. Lipstick, directed by Ed White is an endearing and heartfelt look at identity, friendship and mental health.
Lily Shahmoon’s script explores the, at first seemingly unlikely relationship between teenagers Tommy and Jordan; played by April Hughes and Helen Aluko. Although the script lacked some physycological depth it holds its own and is contextually and thematically strong. White’s production has the essence of recent Netflix hit Sex Education and I would go as far to say I would like to see it as a television series (including the gender swapped casting, please and thanks).
Tommy, who experiments with makeup and wearing dresses is sprung doing so by Jordan, who isn’t judgemental or phased by this. This being one in of the most poignant and refrershing elements of the production and parallels the more progressive Gen Z attitudes that we could all no doubt adopt a little more philosophy from. Tommy in turn sums the gender non-conformity up perfectly, ‘it’s just a thing I do”. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our own society adopted these attitudes too?
A transformativde trip to Cornwall sees the relationship between the characters escalate and fall apart as they can’t communicate when they need to. Mental health, societal pressures, family and identity grappling get in the way. The height of which is a raw but perhaps slightly over explained and overdone fight between the two about Tommy’s mental health troubles.
Although gender reverse casting has been done a thousand times before (and albeit in this case it was a minority replacing a minority which is perhaps a little tricky) it still felt right and It made some kind of sense that two women should play these teenage boys. It’s understood that in a production that looked at the archetype of masculinity why not expand the idea of the gender non binary with the addition of female actors playing young men? Plus we alwaysneed more women on stage. It did feel that overall the production perhaps relied on this statement in an absence for further depth in the characters and plot. Although I do understand there is only so much you can tackle in 70 mins.
Lipstick isn’t experimental or game changing but it’s definitely slick, professional and engaging thanks to White, sound designer Charlie Smith and lighting designer Alex Lewer. It’s well acted, with Helen Aluko as the standout and although the script had its limits you’re ultimately still driven to care about these characters and to think about the landscape of identity, not just within the LGBTQI+ community but across gender and society as a whole.
© Bj McNeill 2020
Lipstick is on at The Southwark Playhouse, London, until 28th March. Book Now.
Image © Lidia Crisafulli