Lysistrata – November 2011

6/10

By: Aristophanes, adapted by David Stuttard

Directed by: James Albrecht

Company: aod (Actors of Dionysus)

Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston

Date: Tuesday 8th November 2011

This is the no-nooky play, or ‘How the Greek women won the Battle for Peace’. We’ve seen it done before, in masks, and with an all-woman cast. This version, which uses modern dress and (very) contemporary references, had a cast of five – three women, two men – and was a lively romp through the sexual farce and political arguments of the original. They want to tour it, and although we found it patchy, I do hope they get the chance to show it to a wider audience.

The set was nice and simple. There were three plinths of varying sizes dotted round the stage, and a stepped dais with two pillars centre back. A couple of large banners were attached to the balcony – only one of them unfurled today – and there were various props at the sides of the stage – Zimmer frames, shopping trolleys, etc. When the Treasury sit-in started, placards were slotted into the plinths on either side, and the women strung crime scene tape between them and the pillars to create the sense of a barrier. There was also a folding lounger, an inflatable mattress, a pillow and a sheet used in one of the scenes – more on that story later.

The story was told in a succession of scenes, some of which worked better than others. Before the start, we could just make out a news broadcast talking about the war between Athens and Sparta. Unfortunately, many in the audience didn’t realise that this was relevant and kept chattering, which made it hard to hear. We did make out some of the information, including the scheduled summit meeting, and then after the news section there was a brief mention of a new play opening in Athens that night – Lysistrata by Aristophanes – a nice touch. With the news bit starting up again, at a much louder volume, the lights went down and we were into the opening scene.

Lysistrata, or Lucy as she’s called here, entered on her own, and started pacing up and down on the stage, looking at her watch. After the clock struck several times, she told us how disappointed she was that no one else had turned up. She’d summoned all the women of Greece to meet her here at this exact time, and nada. Nobody’s bothered to turn up. Well, actually one woman did turn up a few seconds later – Cleo. Fanny arrived a few minutes later, and then success! The Spartan women turned up, accompanied by the Thracian women. We only got to see the leader of the Spartan women though, played by Joseph Wicks (times are hard) and as she posed on a plinth we can see she’d been working out. She looked rather fetching in her red top and shorts; she was well padded in the tits department but her midriff needed some serious waxing.

With all the women gathered, Lucy was urged to tell them all her proposal. After making sure that all the women were keen to see not only their husbands come home from the war but also their lovers, Lucy finally screwed her courage to the sticking point (they used a lot of Shakespeare quotes in this section) and suggested they all withhold ___ from their husbands. What, they all asked? She was too nervous to get it out the first time, and they had to work really hard to persuade her to have another go. They swore they’d make all sorts of sacrifices to get their men back safely. But when she did finally explain the details of her plan, it was a step too far for these ladies. Give up cock? No way! I even found myself agreeing with Cleo that we couldn’t do without sex (sitting next to an aisle can get you into all sorts of trouble). Still, these women weren’t getting enough as it was, and they did want their men folk back….. Eventually Lucy inspired them to see it through, and when they heard the signal that the Treasury had been taken, the revolution was well and truly under way.

The next section involved a couple of elderly men bringing sticks and a bin on stage to make a fire and smoke the women out of the Treasury. It ended in ignominious defeat for the lads, as the women fought them off with frying pans and plastic doodads (including plastic ducks). I couldn’t make out much of the dialogue in this bit, but it seemed to mainly involve the two men saying dick instead of stick and suchlike.

I think the next scene was a debate between Lucy and an official, where the male view was that women were incapable of serious thought, never mind running the treasury! Lucy did her best to argue against him, but couldn’t overcome the ingrained attitudes of the ancient Greek mind. Despite the modern dress, the prejudices were distinctly old-fashioned, though still depressingly present at times today.

The biggest challenge to the women’s position came in the shape of Dick himself, Fanny’s husband, sporting a massive erection in a tasteful shade of pink. Having seen The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus years ago, we weren’t surprised by the size of the member, though it was used in an unusual way. Wrapping a cloth around it, Dick claimed it was Fanny’s baby which needed her help. She had to come down from the balcony, but of course it was a trick. Mind you, she handled the situation very well, despite her own sexual yearnings. She worked Dick up into a frenzy of sexual excitement (and he wasn’t far off it to begin with) then delayed the moment of pleasure by insisting on a bed, then a mattress, then a pillow, then a sheet. At the end, when she couldn’t delay anymore, she tied her bra over his face, and while he was waiting for her to get on with it, she snuck off back to the treasury building. How cruel! (and very funny)

Eventually the total lack of action got to the men, and they started to consider giving the women what they wanted – peace. The Spartan and Athenian representatives came together to discuss the problem, and their problems were so ‘up front’ they could compare sizes as well (Sparta won). With every incentive to sign a treaty, the men still held off until finally Lucy forced their hand. This was done in the form of a game show, with the ‘contestants’ asked a series of questions, and then given an ultimatum – sign the peace treaty or else. They didn’t fancy the ‘or else’, so they signed, pronto.

There was another scene with two old couples before this, but I couldn’t make out much of it, and I don’t remember how they ended the play either; as I said before, it was patchy. But we did enjoy enough of it to feel happy with our afternoon, and since this was only their second performance, I’m sure it will come on fairly quickly if they get a reasonable run at it. Compared to the Carry On brand of sexual innuendo, the humour was more direct, and I reckon this worked better with so many teenagers in the audience. Nothing wrong with innuendo, of course, but it’s refreshing to have the knob jokes so ‘in your face’, as it were.

There was a short post-show afterwards, and the problem of updating the piece was discussed; the cast found it hard to deal with some of the events, such as the men who signed the treaty being allowed into the Treasury to have sex with any woman they want. The pressure of having so many quick changes made it harder, but also gave the production extra energy; in one scene, the two male actors played two parts each, dragging their own injured characters off stage. And they said men were no good at multi-tasking!

There were plenty of references to Greece’s current financial problems – very topical – and the two or three scenes that worked well made up for the ones that didn’t. I do hope they get a chance to continue with this show.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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