DIDASKALIA

THEATER REVIEWS

Walk on the Wild Side

A review of
Aristophanes' Lysistrata
translated by Alan Sommerstein
directed and designed by Paul Atkins
presented by the Practical Passion Theatre Company

July 13, 1996

The Court House, Warwick

Reviewed by Sallie Goetsch
University of Warwick
E-mail: sallie@fileslinger.com

The words 'This production contains material of a sexual nature' are, of
course, something of an understatement when they refer to Lysistrata.
Practical Passion gave its audience a cheerfully explicit rendition of this
comedy in which there is very little material which is not of a sexual
nature.

The Court House in Warwick now houses the Tourist Information Centre
and very little else, as repeated vandalism has caused such luxury items as
public telephones to be removed. Theatergoers entering the lavatories were
advised that 'Those who use these premises for recreational purposes do so
at their own risk.' The high-ceilinged hall in which the performance took
place had a dignified look to it, with pink granite pilasters and two
enormous fireplaces (non-functioning, of course), but the cursive lettering
over the door assured us that the room was licensed for singing and
dancing.

The set was simple but effective, its staggered flats providing numerous
exits and entrances to the skene, with blocks and platforms to allow the
women to appear above the men when necessary. In good authentic
fashion, the skene was the locus of the numerous costume changes
required in this relentlessly modern-dress production. The lighting
instruments (nor more than four or five) were mounted on tripods at the
back of the room. The production, which played earlier this month in
Leamington Spa and Banbury, was well-designed for portability.

Unfortunately, the seating was not well-designed for visibility. The chairs
which notices requested us not to drag across the floor were comfortable
enough, but did not provide a very good view of anything which happened
at floor level. And the acoustics were disastrous, a fact impossible to ignore
given that most of the music used was recorded.

The production began with an unscripted piece of choreography to loud
house music: Lysistrata: The Rock Video. It seemed at first that this
dance was intended to illustrate the battle of the sexes, but its connection
with the play became less clear as it went on. It did serve to focus our
attention.

Most members of this company are university-age at the oldest (there was
one boy of about ten), but Lysistrata herself was played by an attractive,
dynamic woman in her forties, making her a far more substantial character
than the other women in their baby-doll dresses and pigtails, who exuded a
remarkable innocence in spite of their obvious randiness. She had a
confident presence which survived her occasional calls to the prompter,
who stood ready behind the doors with a marked-up copy of the Penguin
Miniature Classic. Despite substantial cuts, the production was quite faithful
to the text.

Lampito was portrayed as a Scots Valkyrie, with doorstop-springs at the
ends of her conical 'breasts'. It's common practice for English translators to
use Scots dialect to translate the regional accents of Greece. Sommerstein
certainly does, but none of the actors attempted the accent, though the
Spartan characters were all festooned with clashing tartans, right down to
the plaid erection of the Spartan herald.

Other amusing touches included the pump-action water pistols with which
the women defeated the men who were trying to burn them down and the
immense gold phallus which served to contain the initial 'sacrifice' of wine,
as well as the small cuddly toy sheep which was originally suggested as
victim. If Paul Atkins missed an opportunity for sexual innuendo, it was
only by cutting the Reconciliation Scene.

After an interval which, if not entirely appropriate, was desperately
necessary due to the stuffy heat of the room on the first day which actually
felt like July, the cast resumed their places to the strains of 'Walk on the
Wild Side.' (Most of the recorded accompaniment was 1970s pop and rock,
though the chorus of men did a good job of rewriting the 'Philosophers'
Drinking Song.') The women wore pyjamas for the opening scene in which
they tried to escape the Acropolis, but returned to their baby-doll dresses for
Kinesias' scene with Myrrhine. Before Myrrhine's striptease act the
ensemble performed another original routine, this one on the theme of 'tell
me about your man,' though the poor acoustics rendered it nearly
unintelligible.

By the finale the women had slid into slinky evening dresses and the general
revelry included colorful sprays of confetti springs as well as conspicuous
consumption of alcohol--a proper komos. Though unquestionably an
amateur production, with occasional awkwardnesses of delivery and fluffed
lines, Practical Passion's Lysistrata is no village panto. Though one or
two audience members were shocked (one assumes) into leaving at the
interval, the rest laughed uproariously throughout and left in high spirits.
And that, after all, is what Aristophanes is about.

Sallie Goetsch
University of Warwick
E-mail: sallie@fileslinger.com

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