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Lili - Etcetera Theatre

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

LILI, the story of the world’s first transwoman, entirely developed and performed by a trans cast who explore the challenges of adjustment and acceptance, runs at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre from July 28 to August 2, 2014.

The story of Lili Elbe is recreated from her 1930 diaries written during the time that she became the first known woman to undergo full realignment surgery, examining the challenges of living as a trans person and the need of the trans community to find a positive role and image in society.

The cast includes Simona Continente (pictured), who was born as a boy and raised by nuns in Italy, and Stephanie Collins, formerly a male soldier fighting in Iraq who made headlines when she became embroiled in a dispute with Sainsbury’s over her right to use the female toilets.

The show is set in the last years of Lili’s life as she adjusts to her new life as a transwoman, and re-establishes the connection with her former life as a painter.

Liz Lees directs a cast that also includes Victoria Elizabeth and James Le Lacheur.

Lili Elbe was born Einar Mogens Wegener in Denmark in the 1880s. She married fellow painter Gerda Gottleib, and discovered when standing in for an absentee female model that she was comfortable in heels and stockings. The couple moved to Paris, where Elbe lived openly as a woman, often introduced as Einar’s sister.

In 1930, after undergoing a series of surgeries for sex reassignment, experimental at the time, she became a sensation in German and Danish newspapers. After the King of Denmark invalidated Lili and Gerda’s marriage, she remarried an unknown man, and died shortly after in an operation to transplant a uterus in her desire to have children with her husband.

Lili Elbe’s life was the subject of the novel The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff in 2000. Nicole Kidman was set to produce and star in a film adaptation until casting problems caused the project to be shelved. A new film, starring Eddie Redmayne and directed by Tom Hooper, was announced earlier this year.

Producer Chris Mellor said: “Presently trans people are telling us that they are often scared and fear being ridiculed when taking part in any participatory arts program that is not sensitive to their ‘trans journey experience’. We don’t want to invest time in any project that may create and develop stereotypical images, and want to work in a safe environment. At the same time, we wish to be able to present publicly a quality piece of work that may help the wider public understand the complexities of being a trans person. The story of Lili Elbe presented the ideal opportunity.”

Lili is presented by Camden and Islington based Theatre Writers Workshop, whose aim is to develop and promote new writing, engaging hard to reach groups through performances and writing programmes. Their past productions include The Virginity Project at Tristan Bates, based on older people’s experiences, Making Allowances at New Diorama, based on the expenses row of ex-MP Tom Levit, and Monsieur Proust and his Stripper at the Etcetera Theatre.

Lili is suitable for ages 14+.

Tickets: £10, £8 concessions – available on 020 7482 4857 or online at

Times: Monday to Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm.

Running Time: 1 hour.