Under the Springboard programme at Lyric Hammersmith, which “aims to find, shape, inspire champion and sustain the next generation of performers from underrepresented backgrounds”, comes this exciting and fresh new version of the classic Greek comedy.
Taking Aristophanes’s plot of war and sex strikes as a starting point, but subverting both into a modern setting of NHS underfunding and student strikes, Sophie Ellerby’s play has Lysistrata (Chanel Fernandes) as an overworked student doctor leading a strike in the local STD clinic.
Boyfriend Callum (Rees Jenkins), best friend Marie (Kane Feegan), and colleagues (Darren (Ryan Stevens), Cleo (Adelaide Banks), Eli (Romario Williams), Nicolas (Wilf Walsworth)) who prefer downing shots to making political points are the striking students.
With a couple of walk-ins (Hugo (Sam Purkis), Kylie (Georgia-Rose Oliver), and friend Michael (James Douglas Quarcoopome)) requiring special treatment, the stage is set for a surprisingly rich play which runs just over an hour.
Diyan Zora directs at a fast pace which rarely lets up and remains very funny and farcical when needed, without short-changing the serious topics. Indeed, a moment where Lysis and Hugo almost make an idealist connection is done well, as are the two “meet cute” romances developing on the sidelines.
Where the choruses of the aged populated the original play, Ellerby gives us syphilis, foot fetishes and strip poker to move the plot along. Maria’s 1st year ennui and pouting evolves into a determined fire, while Lysis’s upcoming crisis almost shakes her moral code.
There are many pot shots to be made here, from private school scholarships to champagne socialists, from Only Fans exploitation to prescription drug abuse. In this one confined space conversations are had, decisions are made, and friendships are forged.
The talented young cast are excellent, and I trust we will see more of them in the future. Alys Whitehead’s set (waiting room, reception desk, treatment room) is enhanced by George Ogilvie’s lighting and Russell Ditchfield’s sound design.
Lysistrata ran at the Lyric Hammersmith Studio from 8-10 September. For more on Springboard go here.
Image credit: Harry Elletson
*** (and a half)