Aristophanes, adapted by Theatre Lab Company
Directed by Anastasia Revi
Pros: An explosively relevant and hilarious adaptation, with clean design, a multi-talented cast, and great original music.
Cons: Elements of the re-imagining seemed slightly out of place, and some moments of the play appeared far more polished than others.
Our Verdict: An exciting and impassioned update that provides no shortage of laughs during its quest to make a political and economic appeal.
Last March, everything theatre reviewed the Theatre Lab Company’s version of the Greek tragedy, The Oresteia. This year we visited TLC at the Riverside Studios once again to view another Greek adaptation, this time an uproarious comedy. Lysistrata is canon on reading lists for students of classics and drama, but it’s a refreshingly light break from the murderous, incestuous, tragic works which are most often associated with classic drama. While we can’t escape the presence of war and violence completely, Lysistrata is a farce about the way war can affect our daily lives in ways other than death and destruction, and Anastasia Revi’s production uses it to shed light on current economic and political issues.
Revi and the Theatre Lab Company posit the following scenario, adapted from Aristophanes’ original: the women of Europe have had it with the current economic crisis. Their husbands and lovers are too distracted by the issue to pay attention to them, people are suffering in poverty, the debt ceiling rises, and powerful men continue to make unwise decisions which affect the quality of life for entire countries. And so Lysistrata corrals women of every European nation to come together and enact a plan so daring, so extreme, that the men will have to listen: all the women of Europe will refuse to have sex with their husbands, with their lovers, with any man until the crisis has been solved. It’s a recipe for comedy in the direst circumstances.
Using this formula, Revi and the company bring the play to life with a colorful, modern and clean set, and original musical numbers. It’s hilarious and highly energized from start to finish; the moment you enter the theatre, you’re immediately heckled by the women of Europe. The female ensemble is really something special; all of them are engaging. Although the play is called Lysistrata, and Annabelle Brown performs title role with absolute skill and gusto, the play remains about the women collectively and there isn’t an actress who doesn’t hold her own and beyond.
Physical comedy is a huge factor here. Being a farce about desire and extremes, the use of the body for comedy is essential, and well developed by the company. And while the women are in the spotlight, the men of the cast are beautifully buffoonish in their portrayals of stubborn yet desperate authority figures. Dance numbers are choreographed, incorporating many different styles and influences – though perhaps my favorite number was one which involved a complicated net of wool created by the cast.
Overall the production was a light-hearted romp with an important message about what we are willing to sacrifice for conflict and what we can regain if we put our minds to it. I admit I took slight issue with some facets of the update, since it requires that the men alone be responsible for the economic crisis. This doesn’t translate well in today’s world, nor to the crisis, since women can and do work in the financial field themselves. However, this can be overlooked easily in recognition that the play is an adaptation and thus has some limits. Otherwise, I can only say that while the jokes were spot on, and the overall presentation dazzling, I got the sense that some elements were a bit clumsy – some musical numbers seemed less rehearsed than others, for example.
Nonetheless, except in the moment that minor issues occurred, my experience wasn’t really affected. I still left the theatre feeling like I’d had a good quality laugh. Basically every aspect of the show is enjoyable, unless you don’t have any patience with sex jokes, in which case you might want to skip this one.
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Lysistrata runs at the Riverside Studios until 30 March 2013.
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