Mini-review (and festival preview) – Lysistrata – Theatrical Niche at the Illuminate Festival

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A few weeks ago I was contacted by someone doing publicity for the Illuminate Festival, a new event taking place at the Wimbledon Studios (next to the New Wimbledon Theater). The programming looked stunningly broad, from comedy to Shakespeare to new plays to a revamped Lysistrata – their cup ranneth over! And the prices were good, too, £10 a ticket, with a location that was generally underserved for fringe theater. It seemed to me like a worthy effort, though one I was going to have a hard time fitting into my schedule. I realized that the best option for me was going to be Lysistrata, which I’ve been interested in seeing since I first saw Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations (back in the 80s – although they’re from the 90s … the 1890s). I was promised a new translation, with puppets – which all sounded good to me.

Aristophanes’ comedy is about the women of Athens attempting to convince their men to end a long-running war by withholding sex from them, in conjunction with the rest of the women of Greece. Apparently in Greek times there was lots to make fun of about this as people talked presumably a bit more openly about the physical proof of men’s desire – in a way which, as an American, I have a difficult time speaking of even when I’m just typing. I find it hard to imagine this play being done in my homeland, but it seems that things are quite a bit more open here in England and people are able to tolerate performances (occasionally) in which such delicate items are treated as a matter for broad comedy. And in the case of this play, it seems like you may want to call it “broad” comedy, since it’s the women who are running the show from start to finish. We are served up with oral as well as physical humor, with puns galore (the “willy” of the people was a good one) and loads of jokes which were often funny as well as low minded.

However, the beginning of the play – the entire first act – got to such a slow start I questioned if I would make it through to the end. There were only five actors to do everything, and Lysistrata herself (Venetia Twigg) just seemed so virtuous and uptight it seemed hard to believe I was actually at a comedy. I was further brought down by the puppets, which were not very attractive and would have been better served, I think, by being eliminated in favor of just using humans to play 1) people of the other sex 2) old people. Now, this may seem a bit unfair as this was all obviously done on a budget, but I do really love puppets and they were a distraction to me. The fight scenes were both great, though: it’s clear the planning was there, but there was a lack of polish. Fortunately it all came to a head in act two, especially when Cinesias is attempting to convince Myrrhine to sleep with him. Watching the poor men walk around, all but disabled by their erections, had us howling with laughter … Overall, I think it was a good night out, appropriate enough for the price, and it made me feel pretty enthusiastic about the rest of the festival.

(This review is for a perforance that took place on Friday, April 17, 2015. It continues to tour until May 1st.)

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