Aristophanes : Lysistrata
Directed by Susan Worsfold
The Attic Collective is a brand new theatre group based in Edinburgh, a project for emerging performers, aged 18 to 26, supported by the Festival City Theatres (that is, the King's and the Festival Theatres). Every year, around sixteen players (18, this year) will be selected from the applicants, and prepare three shows in the season, and this production of Lysistrata was their maiden voyage. Interestingly, the only other time I've seen Lysistrata, it was also a young performers' group, the drama group of my university. It's a piece that seems to work particularly well for that age group, perhaps (in part) because their youth allows them to approach it with the kind of uninhibited energy the subject demands.
Staging Aristophanes - staging any of the Antique comedies in particular - is not so much a question of translation as of adaptation. The humour in a comedy is not usually just situational, it is also referential, that is, it will make reference to persons, places and events that the audience can reasonably be expected to recognise. When the play in question is twenty-four centuries old, it's obvious that is going to be a problem, so the Attic Collective performed a modernised version, in contemporary dress.
It's a short evening, too, 80 minutes without an interval, where I recall something a bit closer to a more standard evening's fare, and I did get the impression that the agon, the debate between Lysistrata and the Magistrate in which most of Aristophanes's serious arguments are set forth, has been significantly shortened (though, granted, I also recall the original scene being a bit dry). There's also a fair bit of singing (or what passed for singing) and sort-of-dancing, that rather reminded me of the All-Blacks' hakas more than anything else.
And therein lay the primary problem with the evening, the sound design. I was already a bit dismayed when the very opening scene had Lysistrata and her principal collaborators using hand-held (or stand-mounted) microphones. While I can imagine that the hairline microphones commonly used in musicals might have been a too-pricey investment at this stage of the Collective's existence, microphone technique can be a tricky thing, and this young group requires more work in it, and a better balanced sound design overall. There were parts where some of the group was miked, and others not, or when one character was required to deliver lines over a chanted background, maybe with some drumming going on, and time and again, I found I lost the text in the mix. The lyrics to the sung items were also mostly unintelligible, and if it takes smoothing out some Scottish accents a little in order to improve the clarity of diction, then that should be accepted.
The intermittently indistinct text or lyrics undercut some of the points that I think Worsfold wanted to make in this gleefully bawdy take on the battle of the sexes, but the young troupe nevertheless delivered their performances with genuine gusto. Sally Cairns and Adam George Butler were particularly effective as Myrrhine and Cinesias in their wickedly funny central scene. A promising start for this new enterprise, therefore.
[Next : 2nd February]