Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Longer version of List Review

Greek comedy becomes a tragedy

This was originally published in The List: because of length- and the tone of the paragraphs - we edited out the bits in courier font. I wanted to publish the complete version here (because The List was totally right to edit it down), because it provides a general point about my attitudes towards female nudity (or male, for that matter) on stage.

The script, freely adapted from Aristophanes' fifth century comedy about women going on sex strike to stop a war, has massive ambitions. Sometimes using passages from the source - including an argument between old men and women and an ill-judged comparison of state affairs with the treatment of yarn -- it takes on the occupy movement, the IMF, Greece's particular crisis, gender inequality and the frustrated ambitions of graduates who end up working for free. It can't be faulted for its sense of social justice, but its constant shifts of mood destroy the narrative journey: a passionate speech about rape culture sits uncomfortably in a production that has an unnecessary lap dancing dream sequence.

The cast, gamely jumping between roles and genders, make the best of their character's journeys and lend some credibility to the action. Robert Willoughby and River Hawkins are especially entertaining when they cross dress, while Louisa Hollway does her best with a Lysistrata who is variously an uptight prude, a delusional fanatic and a clear-sighted leader, as the plot demands. The direction, however, can't resolve the demands of the script, and resorts to racing through the story, and the acting descends into a shouting match towards the end: this chaos might reflect the nature of the international financial crisis, but it fails to entertain or elucidate.

There is also the question of exploitation. In a prologue, which sees Lysistrata hatch her plan after a disappointing birthday party, a man performs a lap dance for Lysistrata wearing only his silver panties. Inevitably played for laughs, it does have a plot function, unrolling the economic situation of the play. 

Later, however, when Lysistrata comes on in her sexy red underwear, it is a dream sequence that suggests the patriarchal magistrate has sexual fantasies about his radical opponent with no further function. Lysistrata's lap dance - and her subsequent stripping in the dark finale, which does allow her to smear paint over herself to signify how she has been damaged by an explosion, are of dubious theatrical need and appear as a cheap slice of titillation. 

This is a disappointing entry, which lacks a clear focus to its adaptation, mistakes a fast pace for energy and undermines Hollway's worthy efforts to breathe life into a undeveloped character. Lysistrata has been imagined in many ways - chauvinist comedy romp, proto-feminist diatribe, historical document for social attitudes in ancient Athens, timeless satire -- but here is it  becomes the wrong type of farce.

(Gareth K Vile)

C , 0845 260 1234, until 25 Aug, 8.30pm, £10.50 -- £12.50 (£8.50 - £10.50)

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