Hole in the Wall Theatre Company, Van Mildert College, 21 – 23 June 2009.
Hole in the Wall’s brief version of Lysistrata was an interesting collection of different ideas. The set was sparse with only a couple of sofas for the choruses, two screens for the actors to come in and out by and a few flickering torches; mind you, given that it was outside, on a small lawn in Van Mildert grounds, what did I expect?
I certainly didn’t expect the Ancient Greece meets Sex and the City that I got. The performance favoured Edwin Einhorn’s translation, which was, shall we say, to the point, with the references to ‘clean shaven pussies’, female vows of abstinence ‘no matter how big a hard-on he has’ and the presence of what was basically a dildo in the first ten minutes. Clearly subtlety had been mostly left at the door, and the comedy was coming from genital-jokes as much as anything else.
And it had these aplenty. As the evening progressed we ranged from ‘it’s been hard, so very very hard… keeps getting harder,’ to the good old stuffed trousers jokes (a true classic). This was largely a good choice by director Nicola Clements, after all, nothing really beats a good nob gag. This whimsical attitude was reflected in the pleasant sing-song rhythm of the chorus, consisting largely of simple rhyming couplets. Whilst the male chorus (James Hawthorne) was fun to watch, not only in his geeky, frantic style of delivery but also in his entertaining body movements, twitching and flinching in unison with his comically desperate situation, the female chorus (Katie Butler) was a less impressive. She delivered her lines in an unsure and trepid way, which did not match up to the bold quasi-feminist spiel of her subject matter. I’d put this down to nerves more than lack of skill though, and perhaps the play would’ve benefited from a larger chorus, which would have put less pressure on an uncomfortable performer.
As for the other members of the cast, Sophia Lazarus gave an excellent performance as the play’s feisty eponymous character, with a suitably disdainful attitude towards both her fellow women and the not-so-powerful men. Lazarus’ fiery personality would make even Kim Cattrall tip her hat. Though many of the other characters were more for Lysistrata to bounce her oppressive personality off than anything else, the rest of the cast still had a chance to shine. Carissa Buzzard’s practical performance as Myrrhina worked well to build the comic tension between her and her desperately horny husband, Cinesias (Michael Benbow) as she bustled around delaying coitus, sending him into frustrated writhing, and eventually causing him to attempt conversation with his penis. Both this and his display of having a constant and painful erection rang convincingly true. On balance, Benbow got the most laughs in the play, due in no small part to his charming bodily motions, excellently capturing a man at the extremes of sexual arousal.
Indeed, the play was so tongue in cheek that I couldn’t help feeling they were sending themselves up. The brain-dead caveman presentation of the two Spartans (Sarah Cotton and Thomas Haigen) certainly appealed to an audience that had seen 300, and who were thus experts in the Spartan way of life. Though this worked, one issue was that Haigen’s ‘caveman’ accent seemed a little schizophrenic, veering at one point between dead pan and camp German in the space of only a few lines.
The fun of the play was not let down by Juliet Maddock’s babbling Magistrate, nor by Katie Aaronson’s Calonica, though in such a short play, there was little chance to develop even the main characters, let alone the more peripheral ones. A particularly pleasing stylistic touch was Lucy Madden as Peace, sitting quietly and curiously on a box upstage throughout the entire play, wearing a thin pink tunic, having only one line, and conveying her fragile vulnerability effectively, even when the two lead males began almost groping her feminine regions.
The play fell down slightly on the lack of technical brilliance, or indeed the lack of technical anything. I understand that the performance was outside, but it could still have benefited from more effective sets or maybe even a sound effect which would have relieved the cast of the obligation to go through tedious and unconvincing explanations of where they were and what was going on. Also, the presence of so many brash sex jokes meant that many of the subtler jokes in the script went unsung, often completely passing the audience by in their hasty and unenthusiastic delivery.
Ultimately though, the play was a good laugh, skimping on scathing social commentary or biting tragedy to give us 50 minutes of sex gags, plenty of smirks and an unequivocal happy ending, at the end of a long year, it was just what I was horny for.