Lisa's Sex Strike

Blake Morrison
Northern Broadsides
Octagon Theatre, Bolton, and touring
(2007)

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Although it sounds by its title like a populist sex romp aimed at hen parties, Lisa's Sex Strike is Blake Morrison's modern take on the Ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes, written during the fifth century BC, performed by leading Yorkshire theatre company Northern Broadsides.

In the northern mill town of Blackhurst, Lisa—short for Lysistrata, apparently—is fed up of all the race riots and fights between the men and gathers together all the women of the town to take action. They take over the factory owned by Prutt, where all of the men work, and refuse to have sex with any of their men until they agree to end the fighting. The women find this just as hard as the men, but the discovery that the factory's products play a major part in international arms trading brings the dispute to a whole new level.

Morrison's script is all in rhyming verse, which usually works but sometimes the verse feels a little contrived and a few of the rhymes aren't very close at all. The script as a whole, despite its updating, is very close to the original for the most part, which produces some elements that don't feel right set in 2007, such as the fact that in a whole town, only the men go out to work while every single woman stays at home as a housewife. The authenticity even runs to the men wearing upright phalluses for the second half of the play, producing some very funny stage business, especially when these appendages perform a routine by themselves.

The play brings up a number of contemporary issues about racial tension, the arms trade, terrorism, the Iraq war and sexual politics, but only in a fairly superficial and obvious way. There is an odd Scrooge-like sequence at the end on the Iraq war which is quite effective as a piece by itself but seems like a whole other story that is rushed through and grafted onto the end of this play.

The songs are all quite unconventional and refreshingly unusual but great fun, hilarious at times and superbly performed by this large cast of actor-musicians. In fact much of the play is very funny and hugely entertaining. Only when it tries to debate serious issues does it get bogged down in too much talk, and these arguments rarely go beyond the obvious.

There are some superb individual performances from the cast as well as great ensemble playing. Becky Hindley makes a strong Lisa, and Simon Holland Roberts is more than a match for her as the unswayable arms dealer Prutt. Amongst the women, Sally Carman is wonderful as the 'common' Carol wearing all pink, as is Rebekah Hughes as the more homely Meryl, all in green and always carrying her knitting. They are very well supported by Flo Wilson as black housewife Loretta and Seema Bowri and Jessica Taylor as Asians Rukmini and Noor.

The men are even less sympathetically portrayed than the women, with Michael Hugo and Anthony Hunt creating some superbly pathetic white racists, while Chris Nayak and Chook Sibtain are equally pathetic as the Asian husbands Iqbal and Amit, the latter doing a superb job with the main scene where the phalluses are first introduced, and Declan Wilson as black Tyrone.

The gods of war and peace also get a look in as in the original, with Barrie Rutter appearing with a silly walk to give a scene-stealing performance as Old Man Mars, countered by Eve Polycarpou as Mama Pax.

There are certainly flaws in this production—the seduction scene could be more seductive, the satire could be more biting, some of the rhymes could be more rhyming and the whole thing could be a little shorter—but as a whole this a very entertaining production with some superb performances, great songs and some images that will remain with the audience for quite a while.

Howard Loxton reviewed this production on tour at the Greenwich Theatre

Reviewer: David Chadderton