Review: Lysistrata – An interesting, ambitious, but awkward adaptation

LUU Open Theatre recently presented an interesting take on the play ‘Lysistrata’ with a modern twist. The comedy was originally written by the Athenian playwright Aristophanes in 411BCE and tells the farcical tale of how the women of Greece initiate a sex strike in order to stop their husbands fighting in the Peloponnesian War. The play’s universal appeal and unifying messages have led to many successful contemporary adaptations tailored to modern-day conflicts such as the Iraq War. Now another adaptation comes from the LUU Open Theatre, who have chosen to set the comedy at the heart of the 1984 Miners’ Strike. But have the Open Theatre managed to make this challenging adaptation work?

Not entirely, but its a valiant effort. Transposing the play into the context of the Miners’ Strike would be difficult for any professional production, and in this instance felt awkward and clumsy. The simple alterations of the script were attended to, such as the replacement of “Athens” for “Yorkshire”, but the vast majority of the text was (perhaps somewhat unambitiously) lifted straight from the original. This resulted in very awkward transitions – at one moment the actors would be speaking of Yorkshire Tea, yet just seconds later they would be making one of Aristophanes’ obscure topical allusions to “Lycon’s wicked wife” or “Cleisthenes” or even “stinking Trefoils” (whatever they are), all of which would have been highly amusing to an ancient Athenian audience I’m sure, but for me and I suspect everyone else in the audience (judging by their silence) the lines were wasted. The chaotic adaptation made for an inconsistent and fragmented plot which was jammed into a mishmash of shields, spears, and libations to the gods.

The stage itself was beautifully composed – a vibrant combination of banners, screens, and props that set the scene nicely, aided by the constant projections of newspaper headlines onto Thatcher’s glaring face – however, the utilisation of its space was at times disappointing. In most scenes the actors simply occupied the same positions, rather than using the raised platforms or other areas, making differentiating between locations somewhat of a struggle. Sound effects were lacking, too, other than some slightly jarring modern tracks near the end, which the audience nevertheless enjoyed, clapping along at the right moments.

The highlight of the evening was without doubt the actors themselves, who performed exceptionally in spite of the struggles of the adaptation. Indeed, the character-based humour achieved the most laughs, especially the characters of the Magistrate and Lampito. Most of the actors had to play multiple parts and did so outstandingly, although there were, in my opinion, some casting errors and some of the lines could have been delivered with more clarity.

Overall, LUU Open Theatre’s adaptation of Lysistrata was perhaps slightly too ambitious, the promising stage design and excellent acting let down by some inconsistencies in adaptation and plotting. Nevertheless, the performance was interesting, and experimentation is not a thing to be shunned, especially in theatre.

William Hoole

Image: LUU Open Theatre

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