Lysistrata by Aristophanes, adapted and directed by Michael Hurst
Q Theatre, until 23 August 2015
Two years and many a long hour looking at pornographic Greek urns, Michael Hurst has created a production that is completely modern, true to its 2400-year-old roots, and above all, hootingly funny. Wittily adapted by Hurst, (‘I had to cancel a manicure to get here’) the play is still set in ancient Greece but populated by characters still easily recognisable now – women who are essentially housebound but take damn-good care of themselves and look wonderful, and pugnacious men who embrace war and playing soldiers as if it was a game.
The play opens with a bespectacled Lysistrata (Amanda Billing on top form), a priestess – brainy and virginal – gathering the women of Athens and Sparta outside the temple to agree to a scheme that may stop a war that has dragged on years, and cost them sons, husbands and help. At first appalled to find themselves associating with the athletic Spartans who have a propensity to wack each other on the bottom (Lucinda Hare seems to channel a Belarusian army’s shot put champion), the glamorous and highly-sexed Athenian women (Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Sia Trokenheim particularly shine) reluctantly agree to ‘open their minds’ and ‘close their legs’, even as they provoke their lust wandering around in translucent clothing. Or less. When the women hole themselves up in the treasury with little more than their lingerie, the men have to take notice and everyone begins to go slightly delirious with lust.
The whole cast embraces the comedy throughout the work, while never for a second losing sight of the play. Andrew Grainger, Fasitua Amosa and Peter Hayden in their portrayal of brothers-in-arms with their fierce loyalty and absurd regimental rituals are as likeable as they are pompous and absurd. The women too are terrific ensemble players, full of joie de vivre and passion. There is not a weak link in the cast, and their comic timing is excellent.
Intermixed with the clowning, though, is the music of John Gibson. The songs, full of beauty and feeling, raise the stakes and deepen the emotional impact of the production. When the actors rise in harmony a capella, you feel the touch of divinity.
The set is simple: a traverse stage three metres wide with a giant arch at the top of the rake and a fat pillar on the other - it does not take much imagination to guess what they symbolise. It serves the actors very well, though, giving them lots of room to play and dance and move (Rachael Walker, set designer, and Sean Lynch, lighting, work together extremely well here, and it is fun for the audiences too, with laughter bouncing between each side of the stage). Shona McCullagh’s choreography is bright, fluid, and joyful – you feel you know exactly what it was like to go to a Greek festival afterwards – and wish you could go again. This is a life-enhancing communion of a theatre production, lively and full of love and laughter, and we didn’t want it to end.