Women in Parliament

Posted: 27 Jun 2019 08:55 AM PDT

★★☆☆☆    Attic Crude

Lauriston Hall: Wed 26 – Fri 28 June 2019
Review by Thom Dibdin

Crude on several levels, amateur company Athens of the North’s project to stage Andrew Wilson’s new translation of Aristophanes’ Women In Parliament is both fascinating and infuriating.

Fascinating, because it is an attempt to give a properly contemporary airing to a play which is not only almost two and half thousand years old, but is also one of the first examples of staged comedy.

Angela Estrada and the Athenian Women. Pic: Gordon Hughes

Infuriating because, with just three performances at the Lauriston Hall, there is little time to hone the production. Moreover, it has had but a dozen rehearsals – with only one, the dress rehearsal, at which all the cast have been present. And, to be honest, it shows.

Wilson’s translation of Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazousae, updates the setting to a contemporary time with such modern ideas as mobile phones and Brexit, but keeps his contempt for politicians very much alive, as the wives of Athens’ citizens steal their husband’s clothes and descend on parliament.

Only the names have changed of the mendacious, self-serving hypocrites, who haven’t thought through the promises they make on the spur of the moment. So there are plenty of references to Johnson, Rees-Mogg and, of course, the slogan “Make Athens Great Again”.

radical new laws

Led by Praxagora (Angela Estrada) and Alpha (Hilary Davies), the women pretend to be men, gain access to the voting chamber and vote through radical new laws to give power to women, arguing that they are much better equipped to make decisions of State, and confining men to the house.

The first laws they enact are that all ownership of goods is forbidden, the State will provide all food and if men want to have sex, they must satisfy an older woman before they may look at a younger.

Chris Allan with Female Bobbies. Pic Gordon Hughes

Meanwhile, Praxagora’s husband Blepyrus (Mike Towers) and their neighbour Marathon Man (Mark Adams), wake up to find their clothes missing. Forced to put on their wives’ nighties when they go outside for their morning shit, they bump into Chremes (Charlie Munro), who relates the news from parliament.

Yes, it really is that coarse. While Estrada and Davies make great job of putting their nine-strong chorus of women on the right track – swearing to the masculine gods and pretending to knowledge they don’t have – Towers and Adams are left with a long passage of comedy based on finding a place to go to the loo.

The issue here is not the level of the jokes, but simply that comedy is not easy. And scatological comedy is notoriously hard if you are to make more than a skid-mark of an impression on any audience. Five year olds may laugh at poo, no matter the context, but the physical comedy inherent in needing a poo, demands to proper clown to squeeze it out.

Then there is the question of delivering Wilson’s rhyming verse translation. Only Chris Allan as Mean Man, a cynical neighbour of Chremes who defies the laws about giving his goods away, succeeds in finding a natural meter. Elsewhere it all feels too forced to work as it might.

hat business

It’s not all bad, just under rehearsed. And some of they physical comedy works fine – notably some nicely done hat business between the male citizens and David Cree, Robert Seaton and Alasdair Watson as slaves.

Chris Allan, Robert Seaton, Charlie Munro and David Cree. Pic Michael Scott

Director Michael Scott makes good use of the playing area, which has such a large thrust that you might call it traverse and the musical element brings things up several notches. Wilson’s words are set to popular tunes, arranged by Mark Adams, which include several that will be recognised by fans of G&S – all delivered with great power by a company that is packed with singing talent.

Politically, despite the pointed references to Brexit and those who propose to foist it upon us, this is a lot more ambiguous than you would have thought. There are plenty of ideas about democracy, feminism emancipation from slavery, lust and greed, there is little by way of resolution.

As it stands, Women in Parliament feels like a sketch of what it might be. At its worst it becomes a caricature of itself, and there is the odd moment worthy of The Art of Coarse Acting.

At its best, however, slapstick and the crudest of comedy, tussle alongside the pointedly political with strong effect. And the singing makes up for any faults.

Running time: One hour and 40 minutes (no interval).
Lauriston Hall, 28 Lauriston Street, EH3 9DJ
Wed 26 – Fri 28 June 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.