‘Lysistrata’ was raucous
“Silly, hot pink and glittery” is how ‘Lysistrata’ playwright and producer El Waddingham says feminist political theatre can be.
And that’s how Waddingham and director Annabel Gilbert delivered their adaptation of Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy to a packed house Thursday night at Milton’s Pip Theatre.
The show vaguely follows the same plot as the original with the same main characters: Lysistrata, Calonice, Myrrhine, Lampito and Stratyllis attempt to end a war by refusing to have sex with their husbands, while simultaneously taking over the city’s financial and political epicentre.
The difference? Focusing on celebrating female power instead of satirising the efforts of the women, an all-female/queer cast and crew, plus modern-day Australian and American slang, and political references.
Standout moments were Lysistrata’s delivery of part of Julia Gillard’s 2012 speech against a motion by Tony Abbott (“If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives; he needs a mirror”) and a recording of part of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez House Floor Speech from 2020 in response to remarks by Representative Ted Yoho (“…having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize”). The crowd went wild for both.
Siena D’Arienzo as Lysistrata, Mia Foley as Stratyllis and Maddy Leite as Lampito gave earnest performances, with good chemistry and commitment to their characters of fearless leader, General’s wife, and jilted lover, respectively.
Scene-stealing standout was Mia Chisholm as party-girl Calonice, delivering her lines with a mix of overdramatic silliness, hilarious asides to the audience and obscenity-laced insults.
Emme Sky as Myrrhine was perhaps the most interesting character arc. Myrrhine started off seemingly only to serve as the butt of jokes, but later delivered an out-of-nowhere speech, tender and impassioned, threatening to turn a blade upon herself if her husband did not release her to live the life she longed for.
And then there were the three male characters (or caricatures), complete with painted-on facial hair: Isabelle Steinhardt was hilarious as an Aussie bro version of Magistrate/Cinesias, with chorus members Keeley Hay and Chelsea Doran earning plenty of laughs for their stoner musings and British rapping.
Lighting was simple – blue, pink, and purple washes to accent scenes or mood changes (most effective when switched in concert with music, such as during the Gillard speech). Set design was also minimal – bras were flung all over the stage, with protest signs saying things like “Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriends deserve a future.”
One area for Gilbert, assistant director Pemay Johnsen and stage manager Teah Peters to reconsider would be some of the staging: it was impossible to see any of the downstage action from even midway into the audience. Although clearly earning laughs, the floor work, dancing and much of the fight scene were lost from view for any audience members in the back half of the theatre. Additional lighting to highlight facial expressions during Myrrhine’s plea to her husband and Stratyllis’ reaction to the end of the war would also enhance the emotional impact, if possible.
This modern production of ‘Lysistrata’ was presented by TheatrePUNK Co. and Allentertainment, a company whose vision includes showcasing emerging artists, and that it did.
Gilbert said her goal as a director was for people to leave the theatre thinking about activism and how it can be achieved in many ways. And it certainly delivered on what she described:
“You can expect strutting, riot grrrl punk music, dance-fighting, gay sh*t. You can expect a very good time.
‘Lysistrata’ performs until Saturday, 4 March 2023 at PIP Theatre. For more information visit the PIP Theatre website.