It is 2,500 years since Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata and the fact that it can still make audiences in Scarborough fall about laughing seems at first like a small miracle. I don’t imagine that anybody in the theatre when I saw it last night had read the original, certainly not in the original greek, and most of the people watching it would have had little idea how it would have originally been performed. We didn’t care. Blake Morrison has transformed the women who stormed the Acropolis in protest against the senseless waste of life in the Peloponnesean war into a group of sassy Northern women with an earthy wit and a sharp eye for a telling rhyme, and transported them to a northern industrial town torn apart by racial tensions. They have had enough of the wasteful violence they see on the streets around them every day and decide on a policy of, “No nookie till the fighting stops”. They are led by Lisa, who is played by Becky Hindley, and if ever Becky Hindley gets the chance to perform Mother Courage, Beatrice, or Volumnia I want to see it. In fact, if she cares to sit on stage and read Heat magazine for a while I wouldn’t mind seeing that as well. She was amazing. The kind of strong vibrant clever down to earth woman we hear a lot about but don’t see often enough. Thanks to the fact that men and women have changed little in two and a half centuries the transformation works a treat. Blake Morrison has also been wise enough to keep some essential elements of Greek theatre, such as large red strap on penises with woolly socks and pom poms for the men. When four of these perform a barber shop quartet I am quite sure that it is beyond anything that even Aristophanes could have imagined. And yes, their mouths did move. Not that the Greeks were a bunch of puritans. He explains in his programme note that the original language is so obscene he had to tone it down for modern ears. It makes you wonder what could possibly be in there.
It was a pitch perfect marriage of company to play and the enthusiasm of the actors was infectious. They were also deadly accurate in the way they threw the verse around, sharing couplets and finishing them off to point up a laugh, free-wheeling in a way which was both relaxed and right on the beat.
Northern Broadsides can lack subtlety from time to time, but when you need actors with full blooded commitment and technical skill, allied to some cracking music and a wicked sense of fun you don’t really need to go anywhere else.