It's rare to see classical Greek comedy on the British stage, unlike tragedy of which there has been a relative cornucopia in recent years. The tragedies' archetypal drama still stirs deeply in our collective unconscious whereas the comedies can seem frivolous in comparison. Aristophanes' bawdy Lysistrata is probably the best known of these, and was last seen in a version by Germaine Greer at the Battersea Arts Centre in 1999.
This adaptation by Ranjit Bolt is the same one used in the 1993 Peter Hall production at the Old Vic. Bolt's witty rhyming iambic pentameter, with the choruses turned into songs (music by Simon Slater), makes for a very accessible and highly entertaining updating of Aristophanes' surprisingly modern farce.
The story may be slight but the themes underlying it are significant, if simplistic. Led by the formidable Lysistrata, the women of Athens and Sparta decide to go on a sex strike in a bid to stop their menfolk fighting wars. Only when there is peace will the women once again agree to have sex with their husbands.
In a series of exchanges the feisty women ridicule and humiliate the poor men who don't stand a chance in this determined display of girl power as the women wear their sexiest clothes and strike provocative poses, so that the men's sexual desire overcomes their lust for war.
Director Sarah Esdaile has set the play in a multi-storey car-park, complete with three battered-looking cars and traffic signs (design by Soutra Gilmour), which suits the cavernous concrete-pillared space of the Arcola. This contemporary urban setting stands in for the Acropolis, which the women have taken over in protest.
The message of the play is loud and clear: make love, not war. It's amazing that a man should write this anti-war, feminist play over 2,400 years ago, which taps into the idea that if women had had more influence in governing nations over the centuries there would have been far fewer wars than in the hands of over-competitive men.