Lysistrata

Sat 2nd – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Georgina Wilson

at 09:04 on 17th Aug 2014

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The voice of Lysistra (Louisa Hollway) whips through the auditorium like the crack of a dildo on the acropolis walls. She’s in the ancient citadel with a microphone and a public twitter account, rallying forth against the financial disarray of modern-day Greece by encouraging women to deny their husbands of sexual contact.

Lysistra’s attempts are in turn empowering and naively laughable. Her effort to explain a solution to the financial crisis is based on the domestic image of unravelling a ball of yarn; when the magistrate (River Hawkins) laughs this off she throws back “maybe if your brain could hold a metaphor rather than hard numbers you’d understand”. It’s the battle of the idealistic English Lit student against the banker, and it’s clear at the end of the play that idealism is limited in its strength.

The four- strong cast between them pull off a grand total of nine roles, in part facilitated by some gender-swapping on the part of the two men. Both men were highly successful in this; a particularly strong dynamic was created between River Hawkins as Myrrhine and Robert Willoughby as Kineasias, the bullish husband. The pair constructed the tensions of a powerful and dysfunctional heterosexual relationship incredibly convincingly, although Robert Willoughby is marginally less successful in conveying the role of Lysistrata’s mother.

Overlooking the ancient tradition of men playing women on stage, in this production of Lysistrata modernisation is the name of the game. The female parts shimmy around in modern-day dress, a box of sex toys exclusively for their use perches nonchalantly to one side for all to see, and the production is overseen by angsty rave music and lighting in all the colours of the rainbow.

The end of the play is a shocking one, and goes to split an already-divided audience even further. Whether the play is successful as a theatrical production and whether is successfully proclaims a modern-day message of feminism – and whether it was even trying to – are different questions.

Very occasionally old and new collide: Charlotte Mulliner’s character as the anti-protestor looms out of smoke speaking in rhyme, and in contrast to the sassy, relaxed scene among the women which precedes her appearance, the old man comes across as something of a comic pantomime villain. But for a new take on an ancient classic this play had verve, vibrancy and vision. Taking a risk brings this production team success.

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Jeremy Barclay

at 09:24 on 17th Aug 2014

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Lysistrata is a modern retelling of Aristophanes’ classical comedy that was first performed in 411BC, which retains the main plot device of women withholding sexual privileges from men until they ‘sort out all this mess’; namely, the economic crisis in Greece. Despite the considerably large amount of time travelled, writer Christopher Adams and the four-person gender-swapping cast does not struggle to bring this show into the modern day.

Lysistrata opens with a dark purposefulness, contrasting an ominous voice-over news report with Strip-o-grams and dildos, setting the mood for most of the first half. Unfortunately, the majority of the jokes in this play – most of which consist of yelling different names for penises – fall a little flat, never achieving the big laughs or shock value that they aim for.

The titular character, played by Louisa Holloway, arrives on stage in a hurricane of schizophrenic energy, constantly flipping between tempers of tolerant sarcasm and full-throttle fury in a distinctly physical performance. At times, this seems a little belligerent, relying upon the duality of her character and rarely extracting any subtlety from the role. The supporting cast achieve a more nuanced performance, especially in the case of Robert Willoughby, who provided a loveable portrayal of Lysitranta’s mother.

At first, the dialogue of the play seems somewhat basic, with Lysistrata describing Greece’s economical problems as ‘like a ball of yarn that has been tangled up’, the only solution being to ‘untangle it’. However, nuances in Adams’ writing emerge towards the end of the play, as Lysistranta’s poorly thought out ideas unravel themselves. This reimagining of Lysistrata’s character is not so much the noble hero of Aristophanes’ day, but rather a nonsensical lunatic.

The modernisation of Aristophanes’ work is successful to some degree. The introduction of social media into the political framework of the piece feels ham-fisted, but the ‘Occupy Acropolis’ trope feels relevant – if a little obvious. The prominent feminist themes of the piece wrestle to take centre stage, but are weakly laid out and undermined by repeated slogans such as ‘a girl manly enough to fight’ and by explaining away Lysistranta’s bristly personality with Daddy Issues.

As such, Adams’ adaptation of his source material is at cross-purposes with itself: struggling to weave the inherently feminist themes of Aristophanes’ strong female hero with his own satirical outlook on feminism’s place in modern society. While the versatile cast makes this piece as enjoyable as they can, the audience will be left wondering what exactly Adams wants them to feel.

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