Ancient Greece, Anti-Capitalism, Aristophanes, Athens Protests, Austerity, C on Chambers Street, Charlotte Mulliner, Christopher Adams, DEM Productions, Edinburgh Fringe, Financial Meltdown, Louisa Hollway, Lysistrata, Occupy Movement, Revolution, River Hawkins, Robert Willoughby, Theatre Review
Christopher Adams’ superb “Lysistrata,” which is currently established at C Central, transfers the events of Aristophanes’ ancient comedy to modern-day Athens. The classical Lysistrata had tried to end the Peloponnesian War by coordinating a mass sexual rejection of Athens’ men; her latest reincarnation resorts to the same means as part of an anti-globalisation campaign against IMF austerity. If this all seems like a bit of a leap, it still lands on its feet, and the satire slices with unexpected depth and wit into the petty tragedy, or the tragic comedy, of the Occupy movement.
“Lysistrata” is vulnerable to accusations of being a feminist play, with its superficial implication that the world is run by male bankers. It actually goes to some trouble to kill off this interpretation, and with its repeated references to Angela Merkel and half of its cast composed of men in drag, the play achieves a necessary detachment from Aristophanes’ original gender politics. Lysistrata’s dissenting females instead come to symbolically convey, hopefully with irony, the general assumption that movements such as Occupy are emotional and undisciplined.
A lot of strain is placed on Louisa Hollway as “Lysistrata” but she carries it without buckling. She looks as hypnotically ghastly and spindly as Baron Samedi, but there is a firm layer of idealism beneath all of her, at times excruciating, wretchedness. You might think that she is only leading a celibacy campaign because she has nothing to lose. Twitter certainly thinks so. A scene in which she dabbles in lap dancing ultimately demonstrates her boredom with sex. But the strength of her bond with her mother (Robert Willoughby) adds both immaturity and depth to her character. Lysistrata’s anger may be childish but it is also never discredited and though she is abused, mocked, humiliated, and defeated, nobody can answer her revolutionary challenge to a world which is just not good enough. “I am an angry young woman and you should be too.”
To compare the Occupy movement to Lysistrata’s protest is rather like comparing a fart to a hurricane. At first this Lysistrata seems to provide the leadership that Occupy, as well as the strikes and protests which had washed over Greece’s austerity agenda like light rain, had always disastrously lacked. The Magistrate (River Hawkins) is delighted that everybody finds the status quo “nice,” but he has actually saved the system by paying Lysistrata’s mob off. Although her women go home appeased, the system is now much weaker.
Adams’ play is greedy to get on top of everything: farce, cynicism, sentimentality, comedy and tragedy. Although it is performed by a young cast on a cramped stage, the writing and acting gel together with far more success than the Occupy movement ever did. If I am making this play sound like it is momentous theatre, it is often simply having a good time. We get dildos, Beyonce, water-pistols and handcuffs. We even get to enjoy a complimentary striptease (within the guilt-free context of classical tragedy). Attempts to make the classics “relevant” usually end up demonstrating the irrelevance of the supposedly relevant, but in “Lysistrata” classical theatre acquires a powerful contemporary appeal.