Monday, 9 February 2009

Lysistrata - Watford Palace Theatre

Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Delyth Jones
Reviewer: Kevin O'Brien

Lysistrata is a Greek drama penned by Aristophanes. Dating from 411 BC, the plot revolves around a sex strike staged by the women of Athens and Sparta to force an end to war between the two states. The play describes Lysistrata’
s struggle to get support for the withdrawal of conjugal rites, and maintain strike action (or should that be inaction?), until victory is sealed. Inevitably, most of the fun is drawn from the protagonists’ ever-increasing sexual frustration - at least as much from the female side as the male, it should be noted! This curious mixture of classical theatre and bawdy farce is from the school of ‘Old Comedy’ - a forerunner of what we’d call political satire.

Despite this intriguing synopsis, I have to confess that as the houselights dimmed, and a set best described as utilitarian was accompanied by a plaintive repeated phrase on a flute, my heart temporarily sank. However, early misgivings were quickly despatched, and the next hour and a half unfolded into the kind of experience that makes live theatre so uniquely brilliant.

Lysistrata is expertly interpreted in D
elyth Jones’ physical theatre production. Character & costume changes occur on stage, and there is extensive use of dance, singing and playing musical instruments, and use of some extremely physical props which bring a new meaning to the term ‘physical theatre’.

All of the action is handled by a remarkable cast of four women. Becky Barry, Fionnuala Dorrity, Sia Kiwa, and Natalie Wilcox, each of whom were nothing less than brilliant, played all the parts, male and female, were always on stage, or at least visible, for the entire evening (with no intermission). It really would be unfair to choose a favourite individual from one of the best ensemble performances I can remember at the Palace.

With no hiding place, the cast invested the performance with a palpable, compelling display of sheer talent and enthusiasm. Their expert sense of comic timing, constant changing of roles, assured musicianship and singing must have left them exhausted by the curtain calls, but hopefully the rapturous reception they received from a packed auditorium made it worthwhile. Fo
r effort alone, the group deserved their ovation. Add to this their flawless handling of the comedy, (the laughs came in torrents), fine musicianship and tight vocal harmonies, all underpinning their level of talent and their immense versatility.

The direction was pacy and taut. The dizzying changes of character and scene were accomplished brilliantly, the narrative was never confused and the tempo never sagged through its various changes in tempo.

While Lysistrata understandably comes with a warning about its’ adult content, it would be a hard heart that found anything other than outrageous good fun here. Hertfordshire schools, for whom this production is touring after its brief stop at the Palace, are in for a rare treat. The theme and the script has evidently stood the test of time (it’s coming up for being 2500 years old) - and I am sure Aristophanes would have had his ancient Greek socks knocked off!
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