Ladies Take Lead – A review of Montague Basement’s Before Lysistrata

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Words || Georgia Drinan

Before Lysistrata is the newest venture from Sydney- based theatre company Montague Basement. As the name suggests, it is a sort of prequel to the Greek comedy Lysistrata, originally written by Aristophanes around 400 BC. It is a triumphant effort from director and Montague Basement co-founder, Imogen Gardam, which features a three-person, all-female cast.

The original Greek comedy Lysistrata is a play about women denying men sex to end a war. It’s cheeky, and a biting commentary on how gender and sexuality ties into politics. Before Lysistrata is most decidedly not a comedy – it’s dark, and an often painful glance at the way women are left out of political power. It gives an interesting new voice to the effects of institutionalised sexism and delivers an emotional and tense storyline.

Before Lysistrata is astutely recontextualised, featuring characters and conflicts from Greek history in a modern setting that comes together seamlessly. The play became a brilliant commentary on modern liberal elitism. Ellana Costa and Michaela Savina give powerful performances as Lampito and Lysistrata, the first ladies of Sparta and Athens, representing the two opposite ends of the political spectrum. The conflict between these two political ideologies is brilliantly rendered throughout the play, and gives new subtlety to an often-overworked argument. Familiarity with Greek Comedies or the history of the Peloponnesian War is not essential to be able to follow this production; as someone with very little knowledge about Greek comedies myself (I had to Google Lysistrata after the play ended) I didn’t find that this compromised my experience at all. That being said, I am confident there would be an extra level of engagement for the avid history buff.

While the play was a credit to the team behind it, it was somewhat marred by an underwhelming performance from Alex Francis, who played both Pericles and Archidamus. Double-casting the male leaders of Athens and Sparta was an interesting creative choice, and lead the audience to the conclusion that all leaders are really the same (and equally guilty of bloodshed despite their opposing beliefs). I can’t help but feel, though, that at this state the notion of ‘all leaders being the same,’ is somewhat of a dead horse, and the play never rose to the fresh take of this concept that it sometimes hinted at and I was so desperately hoping for. Before Lysistrata also had some interesting themes about class, but the decision to have having the same actor playing the leaders of Athens and Sparta appearing as a working class Athenian and Spartan dulled the potency of the otherwise brilliant commentary of class politics.

All in all, this play was thought-provoking and enjoyable, despite its shortcomings. Aficionados of Ancient History and individuals fascinated about gender themes and political commentary would very much enjoy this production.