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Lysistrata is an ancient Greek comedy written by Aristophanes in which women from the warring cities of Athens and Sparta unite in a pledge of sexual abstinence until the men agree to end their fighting. The concept inspired writer/actor Ellana Costa to think about the power of women, politics, war and unity in a modern context, the result being the less comical, more intellectual Before Lysistrata.

Costa’s play still uses Athens and Sparta as the settings, but the dialogue, costumes and references are distinctly contemporary with overtones of current world issues.

The current Montague Basement production features three female actors, one of whom (Alex Francis) plays the dual male parts of Pericles and Archidamus, leaders of Athens and Sparta respectively. Costa herself plays Lampito, First Lady of Sparta and Michaela Savina is Lysistrata, First Lady of Athens. Initially, the casting of Francis seems odd as she is quite diminutive in stature against the other two. However, it works, not only because of the quality of the acting but also as a subtle visual statement (deliberate or not) about the ‘smallness’ of these men.

Both Savina and Costa are engaging and emotionally charged. The script goes deeper than mere political debate, exploring complexities of conflict and conscience within each respective household.

The set is minimal with token items of furniture suggesting place (for instance, a desk), and the traverse stage design (seating on opposite sides of performance space) helps create intimacy. Using the back wall as a screen, a constantly changing projection shows quotes, faux news clips and images. However, while these are effective and often humorous, they can also be distracting.

Background music, ranging from ambient jazz to pop to a banshee-like screech, is frequently at odds with the action underscoring the irony, absurdity or tension.

It’s an evocative, challenging play with sprinklings of humour and lots to walk away and think about.

Until Jul 22, Tue – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6pm. Kings Cross Theatre, Kings Cross Hotel, 244 William St, Kings Cross. $20-30. Tickets & Info:

Reviewed by Rita Bratovich.