Theatre: No sex please, we're Ancient Greeks
Friday 09 July 1999
BATTERSEA ARTS CENTRE
"ARMS AND the man" was Virgil's stated subject in the Aeneid. Aristophanes, however, was rather more concerned with another part of the soldier's anatomy in a play that revels in tittering female silliness as much as brutish male stupidity, and comes up with some beautifully half-cocked theories about war psychology.
A Greek scholar once said that the Ancient Greek sense of humour could be summed up in a banana, and Phil Willmott's production of Germaine Greer's ball-grabbing translation certainly misses no opportunities to squeeze as fruity an interpretation as possible out of Aristophanes' ideas. Sid James would be more at home in this performance than Socrates, and if you don't get the idea when you see the "Male Members Only" sign stuck jauntily to the bathhouse backdrop, you certainly will when one of the women starts fretting that not only men, but "modest eight-inch dildos" have had their resources diverted from the bedroom to the battle-front.
For those who have not yet been seduced by the plot, Lysistrata is the Greek heroine who puts the "f" into feisty when she summons the women of the warring Athens, Boeotia, and Sparta together and orders them to withhold sex from their men until they agree to stop fighting. When Aristophanes wrote the play, in 412BC, Athens had just endured a devastating defeat in Sicily, but was preparing undeterred to continue the Peloponnesian war until its bloody end in 404BC.
Ironies would have besieged the audience then as now, as Lysistrata posed its teasingly serious questions about the validity of violence. The true irony is that in Ancient Athenian society, male fears of illegitimate offspring meant that women normally led lives of near seclusion in their married homes - so that while Aristophanes seemed to be the greatest humorous feminist of his time, he was safe in the knowledge that female self-assertion was about as likely as an invasion of aliens from outer-space.
Rose Wadham, as Lysistrata, looks and acts strikingly like a young Germaine Greer as she rallies her girly cohorts to the battle between Eros and violence. Half of this production's flirtatious fun comes from its playground- inspired depiction of men and women in groups, choruses of girly squeals punctuated by puzzled male grunts as men are forced to question their not-so-inherent superiority.
This bubbling bag of Ancient Greek delights is augmented by inspired comic moments - such as when one of the women's husbands, Kinesias, arrives with an king-sized erection and is treated to a cheesily seductive synchronised dancing parade, stuffed satin hearts and all, before being refused sex. Unsurprisingly, the boudoir prevails in a polemic that takes its fun more seriously than its seriousness, and leaves the audience gasping for much much more.
To 8 August, 0171-223 2223
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