In recent years Northern Broadsides’ collaborations with mainstream theatres have led to more lavish, generously cast productions, among them some of the company’s greatest successes and one or two less convincing experiments.
Lisas Sex Strike is Blake Morrison’s adaptation in loose rhyming couplets of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, co-produced with Bolton Octagon. The production, if somewhat over-emphatic, is a triumph. The play itself, though very well received by the audience, is less of a palpable hit.
Lysistrata was the original “Make love, not war” text – or, rather, “you can’t make love until you stop making war.” Morrison transposes it to a modern factory with which the owner, Prutt, has revitalised the economy of a struggling Northern town. The workers are sharply divided on racial grounds and the war Lysistrata and the other women set out to stop, is between whites and other races (essentially Caribbean and Indian, despite passing references to Eastern Europe). Later the waters are muddied by the discovery that Prutt is a secret armaments dealer!
Too many targets, too little substance for the “biting satire,” promised by the publicity, to work. Blake Morrison himself wisely terms the play “a farcical comedy”, but so many references to both historical events and the present-day world of 9/11, Iraq, terrorism and extraordinary rendition hint at a weight that the play, in fact, lacks. These things are not, in fact, all that funny and here their use seems little more than gag fodder.
However, Conrad Nelson as director and composer puts together an evening full of theatrical and musical delights – plaudits, too, to Rebekah Hughes, doubling as Music Director and one of the sex deniers. Brilliantly staged set pieces abound: the quintet of policemen who derive physically from the Keystone Cops, musically from George Formby; the sweet little song (school of Eric Idle) for four massive male members; Barrie Rutter, as Old Man Mars, doing his Max Wall bit. Unfortunately these tend to operate as separate “turns” rather than being integral to the play – which is why the Cabaret parody is so satisfying: amusing, precise and musically subtle, it also advances the plot.
As Lysistrata, the excellent Becky Hindley has dramatic weight as well as wit and she is surrounded by a multi-talented cast of first-class physical actors and actor-musicians. Jessica Worrall provides an open and flexible set in anticipation of varied tour venues and her costumes (especially the colour-coded women) match the tone of the production perfectly.