“I loved his willy. I really loved his willy.” This is not the sort of audience reaction you expect to hear outside a staging of an ancient Greek play, but the new show at the Arcola Theatre in London is Aristophanes, and Lysistrata, and a Lysistrata far closer in intent to the original than the po-faced American translation (Douglass Parker’s) sitting on my shelf in which the introduction proclaims the play is about “Love Achieved”.
Of course it is not about love, but sex, and women exercising the power of their bodies to achieve the highest of goals, peace. So the four-foot-long flourescent tubes rising, and rising, and rising, from the groins of the magistrate, the Spartan ambassador and Kinesias are entirely explicit in their meaning, and the actors, and the text, have no problems with that.
To an ancient Greek audience this was ludicrous fooling, but today it has a more serious meaning. The young women in the opening night audience were cheering on Lysistrata (a powerful performance by Tanya Moodie) all of the way, as she dominated the play, and the men – this is girl power for the Naughties, and a far more admirable model than that offered by the Spice Girls in the 1990s.
Ranjit Bolt’s musical adaptation, previously seen at the Old Vic, is a perfect festive season choice, a great antidote to the stress of the festive season. The music (by Simon Slater) is a rollicking mix of music hall and classic Fifties movie, and Ann Yee’s dance routines make fine use of the imaginative set – an Athens carpark, with battered-looking vehicles. This is surely the first time a Vauxhall Vestra has doubled as Pan’s Grotto. If the small cast – particularly the three men – sometimes struggle to maintain the volume and power of lungs and muscles together, it is only a minor fault.
Turning the Spartan Lampito (Laura Elphinstone) into a tough northern lass in designer tracksuit, Myrrhina (Leandra Lawrence) into a flustered yummy mummy, with her bag spilling baby accoutrements, and Kolonike (Rosanna Lavelle) into a over-scultped and underemployed West London trophy wife might be said to be relying to stereotypes, but they play up to these with such glorious abandon that criticism seems mean-spirited.
The magistrate (Jason Morell) is your sleazy local estate agent showing off his latest-model mobile camera, and in their role as singing and dancing Athenian soldiers, Josephn Attenborough and Pete McCamley do a fine job of quaking and covering as the women constrain them within a maypole twist of tights, then use Aphrodite’s weapon of lipstick to reduce them to quivering wrecks.
Singing with multi-coloured dildos for microphones, sacrificing to Aphrodite by pouring wine into a baby’s potty then solemnly sharing the draft, and of course those “willies” are just some of the images that are likely to stick in your mind from this production. Just be sure they don’t become too strongly entrenched, or you might find yourself laughing inappropriately at an intimate moment.
The theatre’s details and online booking is here. The show continues until 14 January.
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