It takes a brave soul to attempt to tackle ancient Greek comedy with a modern audience. It takes one even braver to decide to turn it into a tragedy. This is no insult. Stunningly, Christopher Adams has not only made it work, he made it work incredibly well.
Louisa Hollway put in a star performance as the title role, creating an intriguingly flawed version of Lysistrata, barb-tongued but powerfully driven
The elements of Aristophanes are all there beneath the surface but have been radically updated into a modern setting. Reconciliation is now a male stripper, come to entertain Lysistrata and her friends Calonice and Lampito in her squalid apartment in downtown Athens. A hyper-sexualised beginning and suitable amount of cross-dressing honour the memory of Aristophanes’ script right from the get-go. But things take a darker turn as they fail to produce the money to pay Reconciliation. He, in turn, threatens to ‘send the boys over’. Frustrated at their own financial situation and infuriated by the ruling Greek ‘troika’, Lysistrata announces a plan to take over the Acropolis like in times of old. However, the plan slowly unravels in a glorious way that Aristophanes never imagined.
One thing in particular irked me: the ending. When the play seems like it is about to come to a satisfying bittersweet conclusion, a decision is made to shock the audience with a surprise ending. Unfortunately it comes across as somewhat cheap, tacky and unbelievable. I would not usually be one to argue for more subtlety when it comes to adapting Lysistrata of all plays, but the shock nature of the ending felt like it cheapened the emotional journey we had been taken through.
This issue aside however, the show was spellbinding. Louisa Hollway put in a star performance as the title role, creating an intriguingly flawed version of Lysistrata, barb-tongued but powerfully driven. Robert Willoughby also puts in an excellent performance, effortlessly switching between Lampito and a host of other characters. Charlotte Mulliner and River Hawkins round off an excellent ensemble.
The soul of Aristophanes’ play is faithfully preserved with a variety of references throughout, though I wonder whether preserving choral odes with rhyming couplets was more trouble than it was worth for this adaptation. At times, it felt a little forced. But one certainly cannot argue with the stringent research of the original text that obviously went into this new script. Neither can one question the superb performance provided, especially for a preview show. The tech was as on form as the actors, with Finn Keane’s sound design only occasionally suffering in the few moments it was too loud to hear the dialogue onstage.
Lysistrata is a wonderfully brave adaptation, embodying the spirit of the Fringe in its tackling of contemporary issues and the innovative twists it takes on the classic. A must-see for anyone who thinks they know their Aristophanes from their Aeschylus.