Lisa's Sex Strike

Written by Blake Morrison, Directed by Conrad Nelson
A Northern Broadsides adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata
Liverpool Everyman (6th-10th November 2007)

Reviewed by Leo Singer

“COME WORK AT PRUTTS I'LL PAY YOU A BONUS MEN EARN GOOD BREAD BY PLEASING THEIR OWNERS”. If your male fate consists of slaving for someone under such a slogan on the factory's gate, then you probably feel being dependent and you get pissed off. Frustration breeds aggression and violence - especially if you are brought up to compete with equally frustrated young lads from other communities. And so we are meeting the male characters in Lisa's Sex Strike busy fighting each other on their divided estate. When at work, pleasing the owner Mr. Prutts, they are jointly manufacturing firearms spreading other fighting and wars all over the planet.

A group of six women gets stirred-up by Lisa and decide to take direct action. No sex, dear lads...! No sex until you stop fighting... and women stop meeting their male partners. No work, dear fellers...! No work until you stop producing arms... and women occupy the Prutts factory (“Don't just hit them in the bollocks, we must also squeeze their wallets”...). KNITTING NOT FIGHTING becomes the battlecry. A woman describes her vision of society where cooperating people are jointly knitting a new map of their town, thus pleasing their human needs instead of the owners'.

Mama Pax, an ancient goddess embodied in an old mystical gypsy woman in a picturesque ‘Romanian’ dress, sitting in an anti-war agitprop designed wheelchair, comes and leaves the stage, accompanied with a fresh Balkan orchestra. She is able to empower the women and nurture basic human qualities despite the times of battle. It's through her that the connection with earth cannot be broken. A would-be archetype of 'male virtues', the Old Man Mars, in contrast, is a regretful retired English general dreaming to resuscitate the good old Empire and tottering about Iraq. His words would seem dangerous if his entourage wasn't so ridiculous. The conversation between Mama Pax and the Old Man Mars is witty and with a sexual undertone. I am sure there are many 'mammas' and 'old men' who chat like this in elderly centres or park benches around the world...

The police attempt to seize control over the occupied plant ends up in their ridicule. In the scene with abundant absurd Pythonesque dialogue, the police troop defeats itself with their own stupidity and inability to coordinate amongst each other. At the end Prutts, the aggressive and dictatorial manufacturer of arms gets converted into a peaceful man when women give him back his lost penis. Everybody is happy and all sing together. A scene reminding the spectacular embracing of workers with their bosses in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis where toiling hands got reconnected with managerial brain in a healthy organic corporation... oh sorry, 'cooperation'! Were noble moralists sitting at Everyman pleased and relieved as the looming class action got luckily turned into an entertaining musical...?

However, thanks to the Northern Broadsides for this fresh and witty up-to-date on the Aristophanes' classics Lysistrata. It is up-to-date because it brings us to reflect on underlying connections between the local and the global – how is violence between communities (or often blamed youth gangs) linked to the international arms trade and wars on terrorism? Just a few days before this performance, Liverpool city council removed its investments from a pension fund involved in the arms trade, following pressure from a citizens' campaign. Another line of thought can be drawn along the symbol of knitting and the archetype of an unbridled wild woman holding the keys to life-giving connections and networks between the earth, humans and all living beings. Are there two different (conflicting?) paradigms of female and male revolution? And what about the use of our bodies as a power tool, medium or as a weapon (not meaning all-destructive suicide bombing!)? The author Blake Morrison, in two years of working on the play, undertook a research on the 'Lysistratian' issue and found evidence of contemporary female sex strikes in Colombia, Sudan, Amsterdam, Turkey, Poland and New Zealand.

Another interpretation of the play could frame it as an open window showing how 'our' social factory basically works. Alongside women there are other groups of people, such as civil servants, social sector workers or teachers, who involuntarily participate in the broad social re/production of capital. We seem to be cogs in wheels of state war machinery... unless we take action and try to knit our own map of our society.

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Comment left by papageno on 20th November, 2007 at 19:50
I thought this was a superb production, a clever and funny adaptation of a classic piece into a what is a very contemporary issue. Without considering myself a 'noble moralist' (despite my love for Camus), I think that the musical here works perfectly well and sets a different yet provocative tone, histerical at times, surreal and,oh yes, entertaining. If anything, perhaps the last scene with the factory owner's conversion goes a bit too far for my own taste but that's another story. Hats off to the company and cheers for the review!

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