This re-working of Aristophane’s classical play Lysistrata transfers the action from ancient Greece to modern-day Bolton. The basic plot of Lysistrata involves the women of a war-torn town refusing to have sex with their husbands until peace is achieved, advocating instead negotiation and the pursuit of knitting among other things – ‘Drop Stitches not Bombs’. Along with the obvious significance of gender in what is effectively a war of the sexes, Conrad Nelson’s production introduces the themes of race and religion, and foregrounds the issue of war with more contemporary concerns such as Guantanamo Bay.
The cast of this production demonstrate a dazzling range of talents, not only singing, dancing and playing instruments in musical scenes ranging from Bollywood to Cabaret style – Gospel ‘Celibacy Blues’, an paean to the power of sexual frustration, is quite unforgettable – but they deliver their lines in verse convincingly, bringing to life characters who could otherwise be reduced to flat caricatures. The production, choreography and comic timing are generally excellent, and it retaines much of Aristophane’s original plot and dynamics, despite changes such as the removal of the chorus.
Despite the enjoyment it provides however, some of the more ambitious satirical elements fall flat. I can’t help but feel that there are undertones of racial stereotyping, and the overriding message of multiculturalism is conveyed at times a little crudely. However this does not impede the general energy and even hilarity (at one point a quartet of giant singing phalluses burst into song) of a highly innovative piece of theatre.