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Review: Before Lysistrata

Montague Basement's latest is a refreshing exploration of an Ancient Greek comedy

Photography: Zaina Ahmed

WHAT: Montague Basement’s Before Lysistrata 
WHERE: KXT Bakehouse, Kings Cross
WHEN: 7:30pm, 11th to 22nd July

The original production Before Lysistrata by Montague Basement — an independent theatre company founded and run by ex-Sydney University Dramatic Society thespians Imogen Gardam and Saro Lusty-Cavallari — is an intriguing, energetic and ultimately empowering modern riff on Lysistrata that casts a surprisingly fresh perspective on Aristophanes’ ancient Greek anti-war comedy. The play, set during the Peloponnesian War between the ancient Greek cities of Athens and Sparta, centres on the drama between opposing leaders Pericles and Archidamus, and their wives, Athenian first lady Lysistrata and Spartan first lady Lampito. As the war promises to persist at the expense of tremendous losses on both sides, Lysistrata and Lampito unite to renounce sex to convince their husbands to end the fighting — much as in the original play.

Before Lysistrata succeeds in its portrayal of Lysistrata and Lampito’s opposing yet parallel struggle: on one level, they are foes whose cities are bitter enemies, but on another, women alike in their powerlessness against men in politics, both in the public and domestic spheres. The choice for male rivals Pericles and Archidamus to be singularly played by Alex Francis is effective in conveying this mirroring in the first ladies’ lives — in their roles as wives, and as political tools of men regardless of their positioning on the sides of war.

The incorporation of modern technology — an Apple iPhone, a pair of earphones, a tablet, a collection of strong audio effects and use of the projector screen —  throughout the play rather confidently displays what director Saro Lusty-Cavallari calls its ‘defiantly anachronistic structure’. For the most part, the use of electronics convincingly aids this minimalist three-person performance and transport the world of Athens and Sparta into a place more attuned to the audience’s eyes. However, at times, the significant reliance on the projector screen felt slightly overdone and detracted attention unduly from the actors on stage.

Ellana Costa — who plays the role of Lampito and co-wrote the play — was particularly captivating. As the play progressed, it was indeed satisfying to witness her character’s growing defiance of orders to just “pass another beer”, and the passionate outbursts with which her determination, anger and grief were powerfully communicated.

Yet for all that Michaela Savina’s character Lysistrata publicly preaches of the Athenians waging war in the name of self-defence, virtues of compassion and reason, and freedom for Spartans enslaved, at the heart of the play lies a more eloquent message. Through its critical portrayal of the great Athenian power endorsing slavery, conquest and unequal rights for women, perhaps the real, underpinning issue that Before Lysistrata raises is this: how much has changed in this current age of ‘great democracy’?