Perfect play makes a point

Lisa's Sex Strike, An Octagon Theatre, Bolton and Northern Broadsides Co-Production, Theatre Royal, Bury St. Edmunds, October 12 Lisa's Sex Strike is perfectly hideous.

Lisa's Sex Strike, An Octagon Theatre, Bolton and Northern Broadsides Co-Production, Theatre Royal, Bury St. Edmunds, October 12

Lisa's Sex Strike is perfectly hideous. Hideous because it unambiguously addresses the culpability we all share for war and suffering. It is perfect in that it skewers us on this sharp point with verve, humour and sassiness, using an unlikely mix of rhyming couplets, musical genres from Bollywood to rap and outsized red, woollen willies (more on those wonderful appendages later).

The play is a modern exploration (adaptation being too narrow a term to describe the span and spectacle of what is achieved) by Suffolk-based Blake Morrison of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, inspirationally articulated by director and composer, Conrad Nelson.

The women of an unnamed northern town, appalled at the inter-communal conflicts of their menfolk, decide to do something about it by withholding sex and occupying Prutts - the engineering firm where the lads work. During their sit in, they discover that the innocuous nuts and bolts made there are used in rifles and, topically, Apache helicopters.

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The battle for the men's hearts and genitals is waged with vigour and a sharpness of language which works well even when addressing acute social issues such as racism, sexism and Islamophobia. Morrison avoids falling into Agitprop, though. If anything the combination of snappy dialogue, witty songs (particularly 'Celibacy Blues') and a strong visual element has distinctly Brechtian echoes. As one of the characters explains “fun is really serious, anyway”.

Certainly, the clever use of costumes - with the six women dazzling in shades taken from the flag of the Goddess and their supporter, Mama Pax, and the men in a tedious monochrome whether as workers, loutish coppers or lovers - is a clear representation of the joys of peace and the wretchedness of conflict.

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Now onto the pudenda question which seems to have aroused the excitement, if you forgive the pun, of a number of local 'worthies'. Ancient Greek theatre frequently made use of male characters wearing enormous John Thomases and Morrison, rightly, refuses to censor out the episodes where the sex-starved men expose their aching burdens. Yet far from being threatening, the hairy pieces emphasise their owners' weakness, most hilariously so when they enter into a close harmony ensemble whilst at the urinal. A definite, albeit maybe unconscious, homage to Jim Henson and the Muppets.

This bit of fun is offset by a terrifyingly quick change sequence of Prutt himself as he moves from amoral factory owner, to confused soldier in a contemporary theatre of war, to Guantanamo prisoner and thence onto hooded Abu Ghraib torture victim.

Becky Hindley playing the feisty Lisa and Barrie Rutter, an Alf Garnett blusterer, as the God of War deserve especial congratulations on their performances. Yet everyone involved in this exemplary production rates a rise - of whatever sort - from what is arguably the best thing to happen to live theatre in Suffolk this year.

Paul Simon

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