DramaReviewSouth West

Lysistrata – Bristol Old Vic

Reviewer: Beth Steer

Devised by: The Company

Director: Julia Head and Xahnaa Adlam

A two-thousand-year-old satire about a sex-strike to end the Peloponnesian War might not sound like obvious material for a modern-day take on gender relations, but Lysistrata brings the story firmly into the here and now – managing to be hilarious, heartfelt, and relevant at the same time.

Devised by ensemble group Young SixSix, with support from Bristol poet Vanessa Kisuule, this reimagining of Aristophanes’ comedy of the same name follows a group of young people as they navigate their relationships with one another under the pressure of complex social structures.

As the debut performance for a new group of younger members of the company, Lysistrata is a dynamic modern twist on the original story, bringing a new social awareness to the source material.

From the moment the show begins, you’re thrown into the energetic social world of the characters, with snappy back-and-forth dialogue and a chorus seated among the audience chiming in to heckle.

The story then takes a dark turn when Celeste (Akosua Edwards) is spiked during a night out, prompting a chain of events which pushes relationships to their limits, while an underlying threat of gang violence emerges. Like her Ancient Greek namesake, Lysistrata (Liana Cottrill) brings the rest of the female cast together in a strike against the men in their lives, cutting all contact until they realise their complicity in the trauma inflicted on their friend – a realisation they struggle to come to terms with throughout.

Rather than leaning into the bawdy comedy of the original, this production focuses more sincerely on the relationships between its characters. Central to the strike story more than anything is the choice of the women to withhold emotional support from the men, and their refusal to ‘mother’ them or shoulder responsibility for their failings. This is driven by a powerful performance by Cottrill as Lysistrata, whose fierce anger at her male friends, and guilt at her own inability to protect Celeste, becomes all-consuming.

That’s not to say humour is lacking in this production, however. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments throughout, a particular highlight being a 90’s-boyband-style routine before the interval – complete with white tank tops and slightly mistimed choreography – which won not one, but two rounds of raucous applause from the audience. The chemistry between the characters, too, makes them immediately believable as a young group of friends, lending itself well to comical banter.

In fact, comedy itself is central to Lysistrata. It’s funny, and it encourages the audience to laugh – but laughter is also the main crime committed by the majority of men in the play, who excuse sexist remarks with claims they were ‘only joking’ and join each other to laugh at women in moments of vulnerability. It’s a tension that makes for thought-provoking viewing, underlining the nuance of any conversation to be had about gender relations, assault and trauma. There’s no single villain of the piece, no one person to personify toxic masculinity – and it feels like that’s the point.

Reviewed on: 15 September 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Thought-provoking theatre but with laugh-out-loud moments and good chemistry among the cast.

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The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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