Also with: Kristin Marks, Craig Crosbie, Graham Ingle, Charmian Gradwell, Clare Summerfield, Robert Horwell, John Kane, Timothy Davies, Tim Hardy, Peter Sproule, Patrick Monckton.
As a method of ending protracted bloodshed, a “sex war” seems both progressive and curiously old-fashioned, and so it is with Peter Hall’s production of the celebrated Aristophanes comedy. It’s not every day the Old Vic stage is given over to enormous breasts, phalluses, farts and an expletive in the first line.
But the tone of “Lysistrata”– at least in Ranjit Bolt’s robust-to-a-fault translation — is more smutty than funny. This comedy may arrive preceded by grand anarchic claims, but the evening is most subversive when its comic mask is allowed to drop. That happens most memorably two-thirds of the way through the short (100 minutes) evening. Lysistrata (Geraldine James) and her Athenian cohorts Kalonike (Serena Evans) and Myrrhina (Diane Bull) take off the masks they otherwise wear throughout the play, shifting the argument to contemporary society where “sound bites represent the wisdom of the past.”
Best known for her Tony-nominated Portia opposite Dustin Hoffman in Hall’s “Merchant of Venice,” James has the ability to be both elegant and earthy, classy and crass; she’s the ideal exponent of the sensual –“Sex, how I adore it ,” she purrs — over the “senseless slaughter” of the Peloponnesian War. She even gets to exhibit a mean singing voice; it’s not her fault that Guy Woolfenden’s music often resembles a generic update of the Old Vic’s next tenant , the rock musical “Hair.”
Dionysis Fotopoulos’ sloping, graffiti-strewn set gives the play a look as singular as its sound. As for the miniature Acropolis perched up high, it roots this lewd satiric “Laugh-In” firmly in its place even as the production’s best moments speak soberingly to our own time.