THEATRE / True blue, and over the top

WHAT MADE some members of the audience at the Liverpool Playhouse walk out of Lysistrata? Billed enthusiastically as the rudest comedy ever, Aristophanes' play, written during the Peloponnesian War in 411BC, has the women of Athens and Sparta taking steps to end the war. They deny the men sex and take charge of the money supply. Defensive this may be: offensive it's not.

Sir Peter Hall puts the cast in masks like painted faces - standard practice in Aristophanes' day but a risk now. This switches the attention to the physical characteristics - the stoops, the swaggers, the knockout blows and the infamous erections. The masks become the springboard for a broad, comic tone.

The women are Victorian painted dolls: all bosoms, bodices and bustles, whooping it up, waving dildoes and (the older ones) throwing up their skirts at the army and farting. Like meets like, for the men are old farts too: blimpish figures, with umbrellas and handlebar moustaches - a Dad's Army of hunched, scrawny decrepits. (It's an odd aspect of Lysistrata that the men who protest the most about the sex ban don't look as if the sap is going to rise that far.)

Ranjit Bolt's constantly witty translation never allows a rib to go unnudged. It's all true blue. But the money side is important too. The military campaign, as one of Bolt's rhyming pentameters tells us, means financial gain.

This Lysistrata draws as deeply on vaudeville as it does on ancient Greece. The choruses are delivered as pastiche songs (crooning ballads, hymns and marches). Each punch in the fight scene gets a drumbeat or clash of cymbals. Hall takes us to the end of the pier, with a hefty nod to the slapstick routines of the silent era. In mixing everything up, though, he produces something with a raucously entertaining flavour of its own. He goes over the top, but not as far over as Aristophanes.

When they reach the parabasis, where the Athenian actors took off their masks and launched into attacks on contemporary politicians, there is an opportunity for genuine surprise. Bolt could be inserting new material every night. But he backs away, offering only a few tame generalities.

It isn't hard discerning the cast behind the masks. With her strong, bright-eyed attack, Geraldine James has the right decisive presence for Lysistrata, who organises the boycott. A natural headgirl, James has to be as tough on the women as she is on the men. Everyone, including herself, is suffering from the sex ban. She catches both sides well: 'I'm a leaderene who wants to be a tart.'

As Myrrhina, Diane Bull slips into her best Ayckbourn squeaks and purrs, teasing her husband, Kinesias (Timothy Davies), who's so desperate that he'll 'kill for peace'. Bull has Davies lying on the sand, and as she alternately reveals and covers her fake breasts, his fake phallus rises and falls. Bull is well cast. There's something very British about this Athens: it's as rude as a seaside postcard. Those who caused a stir by walking out in Liverpool - doing the box office nothing but good - must have been friends of the producer's.

Watching the National's revival of Inadmissible Evidence, two possibilities spring to mind. One is that John Osborne's 1964 play offers an Everest of a part in Bill Maitland, the self-lacerating solicitor, and that Trevor Eve, though an attractive actor, is no Nicol Williamson.

The other is that Trevor Eve turns in a highly effective performance, but the mountain is unclimbable. Osborne is unmatched as a purveyor of sour truths (a love affair has 'endless, wheedling obligations') and as a public dissector of emotional innards. Maitland speaks of 'the fibbing, mumping, pinched little worm of energy eating away in this me'. But this play is long. There's little story, the relationships are one- sided, and there's a wretched, paranoid, self-pitying central character, with whom we share more than three hours.

The case for Osborne is that Trevor Eve is not an existential actor. He simply doesn't have the stench of death in his nostrils. When he tells us of the glands trying to batter their way out of his neck, 'real big gobstoppers', we see only a hypochondriac. Eve is a brisk, well-groomed figure, clipping out his lines in a dry, rasping voice. Flicking his wrists, tweaking his ears and fingering his waistcoat pocket, he gives a strenuously energetic performance.

But there is a chasm between this showiness and the awesome glare of Osborne's contempt. When Eve reflects on his taste in women (muttering darkly, 'blonde, blonde, blonde') we remain in the shallows of his psyche. Osborne demands a whirlwind; Eve is only a stiff breeze.

Or so it seemed at the interval. The case for Eve grows in Act Two, dispelling the idea that he's best playing plausible types, not monsters of this magnitude. When he turns on his silent daughter for her 'vintage, swinging indifference' he almost convinces us that he is 'packed with spite and twitching with revenge'. He musters a livid spleen for his daughter when he says: 'You hardly drink.'

So often the action on the wide Lyttelton stage narrows down to one man falling to pieces over the phone. It looks as if it might be a radio play. But then, of course, both sides of the conversation would be heard, and this is, essentially, a monologue. You wonder why it isn't in the Cottesloe.

It's a pleasure to hear from the other characters, when we do. To learn of the fling that Maples (Jason Watkins) had in the back of the car with the sales manager from Kingston. Or the confession from Joy (Matilda Ziegler) that she likes sex constantly. Ziegler, so good in Women Laughing at the Royal Court, turns in another taut, pert performance.

Director Di Trevis sets the play firmly in the Sixties. Stephen Brimson Lewis's designs have curls of smoke drifting across the backdrops. In this shifting, nightmarish world, Osborne's voice stands out. 'It's inhuman to be capable of giving a decent account of oneself,' says Maitland. Osborne is a raw, compulsive autobiographer. But this indecent account of a man's life needs to gain a Williamson or lose an hour.

The Beijing Ju Opera Troupe's production of The Little Phoenix, seen this week in the LIFT festival, moves to Nottingham with dazzling proof of how Chinese theatre combines its skills. As the victorious female warrior, Wang Jing is winning in every way.

'Lysistrata': Old Vic (071-928 7616). 'Inadmissible Evidence': Lyttelton (071-928 2252). 'Little Phoenix': Nottingham Playhouse (0602 419419) Tues to Sat.

(Photograph omitted)

Irving Wardle writes this week in the Sunday Review, page 21.

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls


The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence