FRINGE REVIEW: Lysistrata is admirable in concept, messy in execution
Lady Beaufort is a Fringe venue in Mt Lawley specifically for female-led theatre, and is currently in its second year. It is situated in Beaufort Street Community Centre, a federation-era house with spaces created by knocking down the wall between two tiny rooms to make one slightly bigger room. One of these rooms makes up the performance space for Lysistrata - the floorspace of one room is the stage, while the audience sits at the same level on the other side of an elegant arch. It’s charmingly simple, and the perfect space for intimate domestic dramas and one person shows.
Lysistrata is a comedy written by Aristophanes in 411 BC. He wrote it at the end of some 10 years of war in Greece as a farcical imagining of the coming of peace in the land. In it, Lysistrata proposes a radical plan - that the women refuse to provide sexual relief to the men of the land. The women make such a stand; they too are sexual beings, and the thought of giving up pleasure fills them with dread, but in a show of sisterhood, they make a vow over a bottle of wine. The result is a no man’s land of groaning soldiers attached to priapismic penises who are willing to agree to peace talks in exchange for a quick wristie.
In an attempt to update the source material, the play is prefaced by audio of recent women’s marches and sound bites from politicians. As the play progresses these sound bites become dialogue for the players themselves, with both Trump and Gillard quoted at different points. Just in case the audience has not understood, they should be making connections to the #MeToo movement. A pink pussy hat becomes part of the costuming halfway through in order to make this connection clearer. However, it is disappointing that the effort to create connections between the source material and the feminist movement remains surface-level throughout this update.
In the original play, Lysistrata is set apart by her appearance and language as a leader of the women. In this there is no distinction between Lysistrata and the rest of the women on stage. They are instead a homogenous group of pink satin and tulle. Monologues are addressed in a wide-eyed stare to the back wall, which rather takes away from the impact of some otherwise powerful statements. At times I was tempted to turn around to see if the script was being projected on the back wall for the actors to follow. In all, there was a lack of subtlety to the performances, and I felt throughout that I was somehow being lectured on 70’s era radical separatist feminism.
This is the danger in updating literature that is over 2000 years old - what was provocative and progressive then, is less so today, and making the language a bit edgier just isn’t enough to make it relevant. We increasingly often don’t have husbands, or we might actually want to have sex with other women, or be in relationships which involve more than two parties. A true update would acknowledge the many expressions of sexuality today - instead, we are left with a piece which is very straight, cisgendered and middle class in its outlook.
This lack of explicitly stated intersectional feminist values is reflected in the publicity material for the venue. I applaud the idea of a safe space for performers who female identifying and non binary performers. Ensuring this is explicitly stated would help in creating this safe space. In addition, I would encourage Fringe World as the overarching organisation to consider how they can ensure Fringe remains safe for all performers and audience members.