Production photography by Zaina Ahmed.
There are two ‘good wives’ standing centre stage and back to back as the show opens. Each is speaking in support of their husband … good men who are sending their countries to war for the best of reasons if we believe the wives. These are the first ladies of agoge and of discourse. Lampito speaks for Archidamus of Sparta. The virtues of Pericles of the city state of Athens are extoled by Lysistrata. BEFORE LYSISTRATA is an intelligent, driven and timely treatise on what happens when women step from the shade thrown by great men.
Aristophanes’ was living through the Peloponnesian War when his comic play LYSISTRATA (about 411 BCE) took revolutionary, yet disguised, gender relations to the masses. His titular heroine is responsible for creating a no sex strike by the women of the warring nations. A ploy to force the warriors to peace. This Montague Basement production is an original story which looks at how Lysistrata might have been brought to the point of such a politically volatile solution to a very long war.
Lysistrata is played by Michaela Savina who does a terrific job of bringing this good wife from her expected role as Athenian chief Whip to independent oblique problem solver. We can clearly see what is going on as the character grows in thought and deed. Her initially reluctant ally, Lampito, is Ellana Costa, the writer of the piece and an actor who inhabits the darkness of the role with frightening reality. There is violence here.
Costa also pulls off a tour-de-theatre to rival that scene where Russell Crowe scribbles complicated mathematical formulas on a blackboard while delivering lines that impel the plot. So clever. Yet integral to the work and a seamless fit into the storyline
Pericles and Archidamus are played by Alex Francis and these are not men as we might assume powerful men to be. They merge, they blur and gender is a non-issue. They can sometimes be mere reflections of what their women represent them to be in public. There were scenes though, when I did wish for more aggressive maleness. A largeness, a towering if you will. Which is sort of why this production makes one take ideas out of the theatre.
It is skilfully directed by Saro Lusty-Cavaliari, who has cleverly integrated some spectacularly well created images to explain and elucidate. He has also navigated his cast around the small space with unforced creativity.
The final part of the show is literally before ‘Lysistrata’ and the text beautifully elides into the comic and crass of Aristophanes’ original. Lysistrata and Lampito are face to face for the first time and the scene is really funny. Without changing the characters or diminishing the implications of what women will attempt. We are left with the knowledge that these are not just two good wives but two good women.
BEFORE LYSISTRATA continues at the King’s Cross Theatre, Level 2, Kings Cross Hotel until July 22.