Jan 28 2017 | By More

★★★★☆    Ebullient energy

King’s Theatre: Fri 27 – Sat 28 Jan 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

Fizzing with righteous anger and frothing with near-the-knuckle humour, the Attic Collective’s Lysistrata at the King’s is a breath of fresh air and an undeniable statement of intent.

The first production from the Festival City Theatres Trust’s new company for emerging performers aged between 18 and 26 is Aristophanes’s classic comedy. The story, about the women of Athens seeking to end a war by imposing a sex ban, has sadly never lost its relevance.

Imogen Reiter (Calonice) Photo: Greg Macvean

Spike Lee adapted the plot for his recent movie Chi-Raq, but more recent events have made it even more pertinent, and this adaptation – credited to the Collective as a whole – stresses this with a slew of contemporary references.

Instead of the winsome charm some relatively youthful companies trade on, this production displays an earthy ebullience. How effective its eclectic approach proves will depend on individual tolerance of strong language, political comment and sexually explicit inflatables – if there is a world shortage of blow-up phalluses this year, we will know who to blame – but it is hard to imagine anyone ignoring it.

Smutty jokes, asides to the audience and political parallels mean there are definite hints of those Brechtian ceilidhs that are very much in fashion since the triumphant return of The Cheviot. However, with its swaggering, couldn’t-give-a-hoot approach to stuffing everything in and hang the consequences, there are definite reminders of the staging favoured by dancer Michael Clark in his bare-cheeked pomp.

It is certainly possible to imagine Leigh Bowery approving of the striking costume worn by Charlie West which is truly pantomimish, even if you couldn’t quite imagine Andy Gray wearing it at Christmas time.

scattergun approach

The way West’s comic timing, musical talent and general goofiness are accommodated here demonstrate a real strength, as the scattergun approach of the production is able to play to the considerable abilities of the cast. Conor McLeod is particularly arresting as the leader of the male chorus, with a striking presence and enough vocal strength to fill the auditorium.

Conor McLeod (Men’s Leader) and Megan Fraser (Statyllis) in Lysistrata Photo: Greg Macvean

Any doubts that the relatively inexperienced ensemble would struggle with the expanse of the King’s are immediately dispelled. There are a couple of performers who tend towards the stagily diffident, but the 18-strong company are hugely impressive with endless energy and enviable commitment. Toby Williams seems utterly at home as the Magistrate, while Andrew Johns Cameron, John Spilsbury and Mark O’Neill have effective comic cameos.

Ellen Georgia Aitken (Lampito) and Imogen Reiter (Calonice) are so impressive in the opening sequence, as Lysistrata explains her plan, that it is a shame they are subsequently underused. Thankfully, Sally Cairns’s Myrrhine does get more to do, as it is a tremendously well-judged comic performance. Megan Fraser’s Stratyllis is a punchy, sparky presence.

compelling stillness

To Cait Irvine falls the unenviable task of beginning and ending the whole thing as Lysistrata. She has a commanding air, allied to a compelling stillness that puts the rest of the chaos into some kind of perspective. Her make-up is equally striking; visually, the whole production is thoroughly imposing, not least thanks to a set that carries on the genitalial theme.

The female chorus. Photo Greg Macvean

With so much crammed into just over an hour by director Susan Worsfold, it is hardly surprising that some elements work better than others. The rhythmic chanting of the choruses is excellent, but too much of the solo singing descends into the autotune hell of Cher’s Believe, that is not only nasty in itself but obscures many of the words. The use of non-specific comedy Scottish accents for the Spartan characters, meanwhile, does not always convince.

Strangely for a production that has so much chutzpah, there are a couple of moments where there is a lack of confidence in the audience’s intelligence in getting a joke. A reference to Boris Johnson is obvious enough without being subsequently spelled out. Similarly, a ‘prophecy’ that turns out to be a karaoke favourite is funny when it first becomes clear; turning it into a full-blown musical number just kills the joke stone dead.

These are isolated incidents, as the parade of verbal and visual gags has a remarkably high hit-rate, and the topical references are fresh and clever. Overall, this has to be regarded as a raging success for the Attic Collective, Worsfold and Creative Producer Cat Sheridan, and their next production – of Jo Clifford’s long-buried War In America – cannot come soon enough.

Running time 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Friday 27 – Saturday 28 January 2017
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Attic Collective Facebook: atticcollectiv


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