HAVING discovered Aristophanes 411 BC comedy Lysistrata, in which a young woman seeks to end the Peloponnesian war between Greek city states by persuading the women to withhold all sexual favours to those in conflict until they stopped fighting, Young SixSix, a group of young performers based at the Bristol Old Vic, decided it would be just as effective transferred to present day Bristol and two groups of young adults.
With the help of Writer-in-the-Room Vanessa Kisuule, they devised a play which, whilst not ignoring the comedy within the story, expanded it to underline how wide the gap still is within modern society between opportunities open to women compared to their male counterparts. We all know of the restrictions placed upon women in places like Afghanistan, but are we aware, or do we agree, that all too often men in many western countries still regard themselves as superior to women and believe that they have, and should continue to have, more freedom of expression than women.
This idea is underlined by the reaction of Liana Cottrill (Lysistrata), who mobilises her friends in the same manner as her Ancient Greek namesake when one of their number has her drink spiked with a drug at a disco. The men think the whole thing is a big joke, failing completely to understand what problems such an abuse can cause to the recipient. They are amazed and confused by the women’s reaction, with the result that what started as a friendly piece of banter turns into deep, in some cases insurmountable, rifts between the couples, with violent verbal and physical clashes on both sides of the argument.
This is in many ways a play of two halves, until the ‘spiking’ incident comedy rules the roost. Co-directors Julia Head and Xahnaa Adlam send the young cast scuttling about the stage, often at a frantic pace, taking full advantage of Adlam’s clever lyrics that, set to original music by Simon Burke, are full of the hopes and aspirations of the young characters. Using the same styles of music, disco and rap, the lyrics take on a much more critical tone, attacking not only the status quo between the sexes, but also the lack of, or at best slowness of, change in social attitudes.
The 18-strong cast works well as an ensemble, bouncing words and actions off one another to fine effect, except for those moments when they become over enthusiastic, speaking too fast, and forget that, with an audience seated on three sides of them, it is easy to leave many of them straining to follow the dialogue. Some of the intimate duologues also were lost to the audience when, in their desire to show that intensity and passion, the voices dropped to such an extent that the words lost their clarity.
One thing that was never lost, or even in short supply, was the actors’ commitment and belief in the story they wanted to tell and their desire to leave the audience in no doubt about their feelings on the subject in hand.
This play may have women, their desires, hopes and fears, as the dominant factor, but this production is a combination of nine young men and nine young women who work seamlessly together to show you how their generation feel about the state of play in what was once light heartedly called ‘The Battle of the Sexes’, but now in their eyes has much more serious connotations.