Reviewed – 26th June 2019
“While the show has a scattering of very funny lines, it’s mostly incomprehensible”
Perhaps you’ve heard the ancient Greek story about a nation’s women who, fed up with an interminable war, banded together to refuse men sex until they agreed to call off the fighting. This is the plot of Lysistrata by Aristophanes, first performed in Athens in 411 BC. The Delta Collective have revamped the play for the modern era, setting the story in a non-binary world.
Unfortunately, if you haven’t read the original play, this one won’t make much sense. Alice Carlill, Alex Kristoffy, Robin Kristoffy and Luke MacLeod’s adaptation takes almost no care to clarify who the characters are, where they are, and what they’re doing at any given moment. Each scene presents a new challenge to discern what they’re talking about. The specifics of their protest are opaque. The series of events verges on nonsensical: there’s a gathering of representatives – we have no idea who they are, or what they represent. In one scene, the women are hard at work hauling bags – we’re given no clue why. In another, a letter arrives prompting everyone to fall screaming to the floor – it’s never explained. The whole thing feels random and messy. It’s very hard to follow.
The characters make long, passionate speeches that are practically unintelligible. Generic language about “not submitting” and “rights” and “the workers” form highly vague arguments that don’t seem to be attached to any particular subjects. Flashes of clever, surprisingly funny lines prove the writing is strongest when it breaks out of adaptation mode. Ikky Elyas (Philurgus and Drakes), and Louis Rembges (The Secretary) stand out in regard to the comedy.
Lack of clarity in the writing combined with uneven performances makes the characters seem erratic: suddenly they’re shouting, suddenly they’re sobbing. It’s impossible to feel connected to the emotions when they appear to fly out of nowhere. Aoife Smyth, who plays Lysistrata, comes across more stroppy teen than fierce leader. But immaturity is a broader issue. Most of what should be impassioned debate is reduced to senseless juvenile screaming. It’s a young cast, and director Olivia Stone may have intentionally chosen to emphasise the characters’ adolescent behaviour. However, while teenage-leaning performances bring out the sophomoric nature of Aristophanes’ sex-based comedy, they’re shallower and less convincing as adults with spouses and children.
Lysistrata, a comedy about a sex strike, is not something to meet with seriousness. The Delta Collective are absolutely right to play and experiment with reshaping this text for 2019, interrogating its gender and sexuality power dynamics. It’s a shame the story seems to have been lost in translation. While the show has a scattering of very funny lines, it’s mostly incomprehensible.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Cockpit Theatre until 29th June
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: