I don’t think you’ve ever really lived until you’ve seen a Mexican wave of giant inflatable penises. Which is not what I’d expected of an evening watching ancient Greek theatre. But there you have it.
A spectre is haunting Greece in the Attic Collective’s reimagining of Lysistrata. The spectre of war. After two decades of conflict, the men are dying and the women feel powerless to stop it. Eponymous revolutionary Lysistrata gathers together women from every state to enact her plan: the men will be denied what they desire the most. To get it back, they must agree to peace. Cait Irvine leads the hedonistic women of Greece to victory as Lysistrata, channelling the power of every Women’s Marcher and Nasty Woman. She is majestic.
Attic Collective marks a first for Festival City Theatres Trust, the launch of a different kind of company. The brain-child of Learning and Participation Co-ordinator Cat Sheridan, every year it will bring together emerging Scottish actors for a season supported by the artistic and technical might of the King’s and Festival Theatres. Lysistrata is their first production since forming last year and the Hunger Games-meets-Glee reimagining could not be more fitting for such a bold company.
We begin in the dark, our only company the soundtrack of battle and a glowing vagina, which turns out to be the door to the Treasury. The production is full of bawdy metaphor like this. In other hands, it could have been childish. In the hands of the Collective, it shows just how much Aristophanes’ Greece resonates in the modern world. After all, we’re still in a world where seven men can legislate control over 150 million women’s reproductive systems.
Enter Women. They gyrate in slivers of chiffon and gauze. They gesticulate, prevaricate and fornicate. Hedonists every last one. It takes Lysistrata to unite them in a common purpose: take back control. They will storm the Treasury, build a wall around their vaginas and make Greece great again in peace.
Enter Men. They swagger in their pristine white suits, they chant and drum with bellowing menace, they command without thought. Sex and power are theirs for the taking. But they find the women of Greece more than equal of keeping their promises, forcing a retreat to the fringes of the stage and the boxes for most of the play. What follows is an hour of frustrated desires, lusty singing and electric physical theatre. No more so than when the men’s lust begins to manifest in increasingly plastic and inflatable ways. There’s a most amusing five minutes as Myrrhine and Cinesias wage a battle of the sexes, watched over by a comedic penis so large no hen party could imagine it. This is not subtle imagery. Credit to actor Adam George Butler for managing his most phallic of props with, ahem, decorum.
Not everything works. Despite clever modernising of Aristophanes’ millennia-old text, some of its more silly moments jarred. A singsong of disco standard I Will Survive drew hearty chuckles from half the audience, exaggerated eye rolls from the rest of us. The production too, a little rough around the edges at points. More than once, the raw power of a chorus speaking in unison was muffled by modern microphones.
Nonetheless, the company are electric, their performance whipsmart. And it’s really not every actor who can command the stage in a full-scale penis costume. Watch your back, theatreland. The revolution is cumming.
Lysistrata is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 27-28 January; Attic Collective’s next production, War in America, runs at the former Royal High School, Edinburgh, 24-27 May.