Monday, 11 March 2013

Lysistrata - review

Riverside Studios, London

It’s every serious theatergoer’s nightmare; turning up to the theatre only to find that you’re sharing the experience with a gaggle of giddy GCSE Drama students. Fortunately this particular group seemed well trained in theatre etiquette and they were perfectly amicable throughout the performance – well done to whichever school they were from. As much dread as they instilled it quickly became evident that they were the target audience for Theatre Lab’s musical and modernised adaptation of Lysistrata, an entertaining and raunchy affair that opts out of substance in favour of low-brow comedy. 

The plot is simple enough, the women of Europe (originally Greece) attempt to stop the EU financial crisis (originally Peloponnesian war) by withholding sex from men until they agree to put a stop to it.  In adapting Aristophanes’ classic comedy to the backdrop of the modern day EU crisis, Theatre Lab Company laid themselves a feast of opportunities to delve into feminism and political comment. Aside from Lysistrata’s ‘Pussy Riot’ T-shirt there was very little in the way of serious feminist ideas, and it was certainly no Enron when it came to exploring financial crisis.  Although a valiant effort to give a modern context to the play, in order to shoehorn the EU theme in, it had to become black and white enough for the women to essentially be able to say ‘stop it’ to the men in charge, and as a result it was tricky to find anything that warranted the use of this context.

Theatre Lab basically used the EU backdrop as an excuse for garnering laughs from cultural stereotypes and this unfortunately detracted from any possible feminist comment as the women (and men) were lacking any real depth. That being said, the raunchy Spaniard, the efficient German, the seductive French belle etc. were all very entertaining, and Annabelle Brown as Lysistrata was thankfully unhindered by a stereotype and subsequently confidently drove the piece forward.

The music of the piece, with instrumentals provided live by duet Daemonia Nymphe, served its purpose in bringing energy to the piece, but none of the songs were particularly memorable. The cast seemed much more at home performing physical comedy, with stand out scenes such as the group of desperately horny women attempting to escape from the an encircling hula hoop, or the men with their completely excessive (and occasionally fragile) balloon phalluses; they were easy laughs, but laughs nonetheless.

What this piece lacked in depth or meaning, it made up for in entertainment and the result is a watchable but ultimately unsatisfying piece of theatre.  Where this piece does fully succeed however is in bringing Greek theatre to a new generation. Theatre Lab do extraordinarily well in drawing every bit of possible comedy from the original source material and in doing so they’ve created a door into a world of theatre often portrayed as reserved for the academically elite, that in itself is a highly commendable achievement. 

This production runs until 23 March 2013

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