BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
22/05/2015 - 06/06/2015
WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT.
We’re having ANOTHER war?! Didn’t we just finally get all those troops back from Afghanistan? What’s going on, John? Why are we fighting ISIS? Oh, to support our ‘allies’ you say? It makes no sense to me.
“But hahah!” says the prime minister as he pulls your pony tail and reinstates Judith Collins, “you can’t do anything to stop me! 47% of 77% of all the country’s eligible voters voted me back in, meaning I represent the opinion of 36% of all Nu Zilland’s adults (if children could vote, we’d have a Labour government)! That means 1,267,751 people in this country think we should be Killing More Arabs!” Is that really what it means, John? Is it???
BUT WHAT CAN I DO, say the general public, I’M JUST ONE PERSON. If we’ve learnt anything from the Ancient Greeks it should be this: one person can change the world.
2426 years since its premiere in 411BC, Lysistrata has remained the most famous of all the extant plays by the Greek comic writer Aristophanes, because its premise is so simple: fed up with dirty politics and the continual appropriation of public money to commemorate wars that half the country never agreed with or supported, Lysistrata of Athens comes up with the perfect plan to put control in the hands of women: no more sex until war ends!
11-time Chapman Tripp Theatre Award-winners (plus undefeated champions of the annual Green Party fundraiser quiz in that pub in Khandallah) The Bacchanals return with their second show for 2015, their second show in The Dome, their third adaptation of an Aristophanes play, their 16th show at BATS and their 31st show as a company: a brand new version of Lysistrata starring the magnificent talents of Kirsty Bruce, Alice May Connolly, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, Alex Greig, Brianne Kerr, Salesi Le’ota, Michael Ness, Jonny Potts, Jean Sergent and Ellie Stewart, ‘adapted’ by the company and ‘directed’ by David Lawrence.
Look, it’s an Ancient Greek Comedy which means that it will be funny, angry, satirical and probably a wee bit explicit. After all, it is the play that answers once and for all scholars’ questions as to whether the comic phallus in Greek comedy was meant to be limp or erect. The Bacchanals are no mere smut-peddlers so expect our comic phalluses to be politically and socially aware regardless of their level of tumescence.
“Aliens built the pyramids! 9/11 was an inside job! Illegal downloading is a myth!” says director David Lawrence. Maybe we shouldn’t discount the views of 1,267,751 Nu Zillanders.
The Bacchanals present Aristophanes’
The Dome, BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace
Friday 22 May – Saturday 6 June, 2015 at 8pm
Special $12 previews on Wednesday 20 & Thursday 21 June
Book online at <http://www.bats.co.nz> or phone (04) 802-4175
A freewheeling, anarchic Lysistrata goes on far too long
Review by Laurie Atkinson 26th May 2015
Purists and Classicists beware. This Bacchanal Lysistrata is a freewheeling adaptation of Aristophanes’ famous comedy. It uses a rambling audience warm-up session, “a speech that has nothing to do with anything”, Broadway-like dance numbers (fast becoming a Bacchanal trademark), a plethora of topical references, and plugs for their first Christmas show.
However, it captures the essential spirit of this 411 BC. anti-war play with “nudity and filthy ancient Greek jokes” as well as the all-important anarchic spirit that characterises all Bacchanal productions. [More]
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A savage, explosively entertaining whip-crack of a play
Review by Jonathan Kingston-Smith 23rd May 2015
“War is over, if you want it.”
The Bacchanals are an award-winning (not least of all the Green Party trivia nights, which they allegedly have dominated for the past few years), and long-standing instrument of, razored theatrical force. They clench text-based historical works between their fists and wring them for every last drop of contemporary political and social relevance.
Aristophanes’ Lysistrata is a play of sexual politics in the most direct sense. At a spritely 2426 years old, it is couched in the structure and techniques of Greek Old Comedy, although it demonstrates a shift away from rigid observation of those guidelines. Ultimately its goal is to expose the populace to scathing political and social statements cloaked beneath a veneer of absurdity.
So it is unsurprising that The Bacchanals, those vigilante thespians, have taken Lysistrata and dragged it – quivering and moaning – into a contemporary climate where the prime minister views the lives of 143 troops as an acceptable down-payment for admission to ‘the club’.
After a delightful squall of banter, consistently humourous repetition, and a small tang of the satirical acid yet to be spilled, the play opens with Lysistrata (a woman of grand and elegant stature) confiding to her friend Calonice her displeasure with the seemingly endless war that has consumed so many of the Athenian men.
Both tempers and libidos have become painfully engorged with the soldiers only returning sporadically to bed their wives, before once more departing. But Lysistrata has a ploy and she’s gathered women from all across the globe to execute it. Her plan is simple: refuse their husbands (boyfriends, partners, et al) sex until the war is ended. Yes, even ‘the lion and the cheese-grater’ position shall be withheld.
The women do not take kindly to this plan and some convincing is required, in addition to the seizing of the Acropolis (in order to stop the men from getting the funds they require to fuel the war effort). But consent they do, and so the tale is set in motion.
With every escalation of the narrative, events become more complicated and the satirical net is cast ever wider. It is a blitzkrieg of pop culture references, a whirling dervish of social-political jabs and jaggers. Pukeahu Park, the Simpsons, the National government, Burger Fuel, waterfront developments, Theatreview, gender issues, Game of Thrones, and many more besides, are all caught in the maelstrom of this grand vision. The gags gush forth as plentifully as the jibes.
For every cutting reference to our triviality-obsessed culture, the shocking control of big business, the failure of the Roast Busters case to come to anything, the corruption in our elected government or the banality of white middle-class guilt, there is a dick joke or sex pun thrust in our faces.
The laughter bursts from our bellies pretty much continuously, even if it is often at our own expense.
Then the very structure of the play itself is subverted, inverted and perverted with characters openly discussing the narrative function of each scene and trope. The Bacchanals’ reconstruction of Lysistrata is boundlessly self-aware and epically ironic. You can’t even criticise it for being overtly didactic or for having characters describe events rather than portraying them, as it parodies that too.
For all its teasing and taunting comedic ways, this rendering of Lysistrata remains strongly feminist and anti-war. It makes sharp and keenly-observed comments about gender politics – both within theatre and society as a whole – and the inequality that is endemic in our own times.
The Bacchanals gleefully retain the elements of Old Greek comedy that best serve their vision. A chorus is employed throughout, to consistently amusing effect. The use of parabasis remains, as a plea to (and criticism of) the audience – read aloud by the “least threatening member of the Bacchanals”. The agon is shifted to the climax and transfigured into a conference boasting the leaders of the most warlike and irresponsible nations in the world.
It is a sharp-toothed and inspired piece of political commentary that still finds time for ingeniously subverted nudity, a criticism of Aristophanes himself, quips about sex toys and all those phalluses…
Did I mention the comedic phalluses? No, oh. Oops.
There’s singing too – strong, confident and robust. And thematically appropriate instruments such as bouzouki… along with the thematically less-appropriate ukulele. Also, cross-dressing. Okay, it’s silly. Very silly. But very clever, unrelenting and bold.
The cast all show amazing stamina and deliver fine comical performances across a staggering, swaggering range of roles. All demonstrate superb audience rapport and excellent timing. Special mention must be made of Salesi Le’ota who is an absolute delight throughout.
Lighting design and staging is of fine calibre (and it’s great to know that those obscenely expensive lights are getting some use).
It can be an exhausting watch and if you’re not prepared for its endlessly self-referential nature and sheer knowingness, you might balk a little. Some of the lines are lost, particularly during the chorus scenes, blurred out by the acoustic of the “do-me” theatre space, but the gags and prescient points are so densely packed that even if you miss a few you’ll still be leaving with a head-full.
It is a savage, explosively entertaining whip-crack of a play and well worth the coming.
Also, since I’m writing for Theatreview, I feel I ought to point out that there is some inconsistent logic… (You’ll understand why once you’ve exposed yourself to the [s]experience).
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