The comic and absurd device of the sex strike in Lysistrata drives the plot and provides endless opportunities for humour. But it isn't the most absurd thing in the play. If we look at a modern woman in the western world - a woman who can vote, own property, marry or not, have children or not, receive an education, take on leadership roles, earn money, be independent and have a voice - then it is clear that, in terms of the ancient Greeks, we are not looking at a woman at all, but a man: a citizen. Apart from some religious responsibilities, women in ancient Athens were generally invisible, and the thought that they might band together and actually take over the running of the state was as ludicrous as, say, flying to the moon in a basket. Here is the truly absurd notion of the play, and here is the device by which Aristophanes is able to focus our attention on his real purpose - a plea for common sense in the face of ruinous conflict. Lysistrata's famous 'weaving' speech in which she links good government to the weaving of a "democratic cloak for us all" is at the heart of the play. Here Aristophanes, via his heroine, asks for partnership, reconciliation, and the end of corruption: a new deal, in fact. At its broadest interpretation, this is "make love, not war".
Great works of literature speak to us because they successfully hold Shakespeare's "mirror up to nature", mining those universal aspects of humanity that underpin society no matter what age we are in. This tension between how similar to and, simultaneously, how different from us the Greeks were, allows us to have a lively and meaningful conversation with their world across more than two millenia. In Lysistrata, the jokes are still funny, the characters are recognizable, common sense is still not as common as we might suppose, and politicians are still in the firing line.
We have taken some liberties with the text; we have thrown it around a bit, we have modernized some of the language and we have added some earlier material from the lyric poets Archilochos, Sappho and Alcman, who wrote during the 7th Century B.C. In the main this follows the fascination with (and anxiety about) the power of Eros, desire, and ungovernable force that can loosen limbs and cause the kind of irrational behavior that the Greeks were at pains to control, and that Lysistrata unleashes when she persuades her friends to withhold sex from their partners.
John Gibson has written some glorious music for the production - music that, to me, feels both ancient and modern, and absolutely places us in both of those worlds. We have loved responding to this, and Shona McCullagh has made some stunning choreography that again reinforces the idea that we are still human, we can still laugh at ourselves and that truth is beauty, beauty is truth.
The production is full of joy and we have had a joyous time rehearsing it. It is pagan, modern, provocative, naughty, uplifting, problematic, funny and moving. I hope you find it so.
- Michael Hurst