Review: Lysistrata

The Cockpit Theatre, London, until 29th June

The Greek city states are at war with each other and every day men are needlessly dying on the battle field. Meanwhile, back at home the women are running the households, looking after the kids and taking the odd break to grieve their loved ones. But Lysistrata [pronounced lie • sis • truh • tuh… not the Jack Wills version lie • sis • trah • tah] has had enough and has convened a meeting of women from across the country to put an end to this silly war once and for all. Her tactics: rob the banks and stop having sex.

What ensues is eighty minutes of farcical comedy, sex-jokes, political debate, dance, moving composition, boners, bananas and the odd bit of sex. The Delta Collective do a marvellous job at bringing this ancient play back to the stage which seems just as relevant in todays awful political climate as I imagine it did back in the time of Aristophanes. As a largely female and LGBTQ+ group, the Collective have the challenge of adapting this to suit audiences in a non-binary world. This includes the inclusion of gay men in the protest group and an epic array of gender and sexuality diversity within the cast. However, I felt the central ‘battle of the binary-gendered’ remained largely the same as the men folk took regular cheap pot shots at the rebelling women, effectively telling them to get back to the kitchen. Nevertheless, there was a very poignant argument between Lysistrata – played with great energy by Aoife Smyth – and her friend, Myrrhine – played with equal intensity by Robin Kristoffy – about whether this gendered battle is worth it as men and women are being further torn apart due to the demands of the strike. While Myrrhine makes a passionate case for love, Lysistrata makes an impassioned plea for greater equality of labour across the board, including emotional, as it’s the women who so regularly have to feel for the men as well as cook for them. I’m not sure the play ever settled the debate but Smyth and Kristoffy worked brilliantly together as comrades, friends and combatants.

The Collective makes an awesome ensemble and all cast members were given moments to shine within the script. There is an absolute plethora of powerful womxn owning the stage including Rebecca Robinson’s Spartan Lampito, Kathleen O’Dougherty’s droll Stratyllis and Alex Kristoffy’s wondrous Magistrate, who challenges Lysistrata’s approach to change-making with wit and fabulous heels. There’s great humour as well, especially Pete MacHale’s alcohol-loving Kleonike, Jack Dornan’s impressive multi-rolling between an old man with a stick and a young man with a boner, and Louis Rembges’ obsequious Secretary. The cast are further united by the similar classical costumes they wear, designed by Isobel Pellow, which allow for freedom of movement and a celebration of their bodies.

From sex orgies to robbing banks it’s a thrill to watch such a large and diverse cast construct a number of scenes using only their bodies and words, and Olivia Stone does a fantastic job as director, aided by Katherine Moran’s deft movement advising. I think for five stars I would want to see a greater coherence between the different elements of physical comedy, movement, farce and drama. Sometimes they seemed to clash, and it felt like too much was trying to be achieved in a relatively short space of time. I would also be curious to delve deeper into the significance of the queering of this ancient comedy. While it is a triumph in itself to bring such diversity to the stage, there is certainly scope to delve deeper into the gender binary and explore more of what it means to be a human in times of such turmoil. And in such a sexually charged play where lies asexuality and other forms of intimacy? Otherwise, it’s a great evening.

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© R. Holtom 2019

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