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:
Hot Lips & Cold War
London Theatre Workshop
Reviewed – 1st February 2018
“the three actors delivering palpable chemistry”
Welcome to the Kennedy administration, a time when race riots are escalating, the fear of nuclear war is unending, and the President keeps locking himself in the pool house with young ladies. In this piece developed through the London Theatre Workshop, Lizzie Freeborn takes us on a musical exploration of one of most glamorous and fraught periods in modern culture.
The show opens with a wide-eyed Irish girl called Maria (Sylvie Briggs), who finds herself in the confidence of Jackie Kennedy after being taken to America by the seedy Davy (Adam Small). Briggs is very engaging to watch and exudes an innocence which greatly contrasts with the scheming and deception the plot is so rife with.
Marcia Sommerford is poised but determined as Jackie Kennedy, and brings strength to a woman having to accept her husband’s infidelities and the pressures of a high-profile existence. “This isn’t a home, it’s an institution!” her husband reminds her harshly as she tries to create some domestic normality. Robert Oliver is suitably charming as JFK, and possesses an incredibly powerful voice (very fitting for the leader of the free world). Kenny O’Donnel (Lewis Rae) struggles to work for the interests of both parties while remaining impartial, and Rae succeeds in showing the conflict of professional obligations and personal opinions.
The costumes (Hal and Ruthie Theatrical Design) are very well done and include a notable number of changes for each character. Jackie Kennedy’s silk nightgown is a clever reminder that the First Lady was not lacking in sex appeal, albeit a more subtle kind than displayed by her more buxom love rival. In ‘Pentaxia’ we are shown the chemistry between JFK and his two partners as they dance around each other. This number demonstrates how JFK can be both an affectionate husband and a serial womaniser, with the three actors delivering palpable chemistry between them.
The subplot involving integration adds a nice balance to the glamour of the Kennedy-centred storylines, and leads to one the standout songs ‘You’ll Hear the South Roar’. Ashley Knight throws himself into the role of the prejudiced Southerner Jerome Kingsley and Florence Odumosu gives a powerful performance as Grace, a black staff member trying to protest injustice without jeopardising her position. Her son Marvin (Jamal Franklin) might even be more charming than the POTUS himself and his number ‘You Bet You Be Glad’ is particularly enjoyable.
Freya Tilly plays Marilyn with an effective differentiation between the public persona and the private, and gives an impressive rendition of the infamous ‘Happy Birthday’ incident without straying into parody territory. Marilyn’s death is staged particularly well (Tim McArthur) as the star walks away from the president who has grown bored of her and towards a brightly lit doorway at the back of the stage.
This was a thoroughly entertaining experience that offered alternative perspectives on iconic moments from this period. The score is strong throughout with more than a few standout moments from the cast, a definite recommendation.
Reviewed by Ella McCarron
Photography by Jamie Scott-Smith
Hot Lips & Cold War
London Theatre Workshop until 24th February