02
Aug
18

Lysa and the Freeborn Dames

 

Lysa and the Freeborn Dames

La Boite & QUT Creative Industries

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre 

July 21 – August 11 2018

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

 

Aristophanes’ classic Greek comedy Lysistrata is a comic account of a woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sexual privileges from their men as a means of forcing negotiation of peace. As an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society, it is an apt source for Lysa and the Freeborn Dames, a new work by Claire Christian, which waves the feminist flag through a story of self-discovery, albeit with some stereotypes.

 

Bold and defiant first year university student nineteen-year-old Lysa King (Tania Vukicevic) resents the traditions of her regional home town, most notably its annual rugby match known as the war weekend. Bolstered by viewing the 2017 women’s marches, during a trip home to the typical church/Chinese restaurant/CWA town, after awkward reunion with once girlfriend Peta (Clementine Anderson), she stages a protest to disrupt the event, as mouthpiece of the #metoo movement, angering most of the town, including her friends and her father (Hugh Parker) who is being awarded Man of the Year in one of the weekend’s rituals.

 

 

Rather than rallying the women of the town in solidarity with their international sisters, Lysa alienates almost everyone though her fired-up hostility and wide range of demands for equality as she locks local footy star Grant (Jackson Bannister) hostage in the club’s locker room after he catches her alofting a ‘Pussy Power’ flag over the hallowed footy field. As the show revolves around this decision and its consequences over one night, in one place, staging occurs within the one room of the local footy club, represented simply by a sunken set complete with daggy club-type carpet. And music is likewise used to effect, especially in cementing a concluding sentiment through Cold Chisel’s Flame Trees.

 

 

Its recognisable everyplace type of town ‘somewhere in regional Queensland’, setting increases its accessibility, however, clearly the show’s intent is to engage a younger demographic through showcase of impulsive protest as a privilege of youth, which may alienate traditional mainstage audience members. At times, it verges on caricature, overwhelming potentially poignant moments with over-the-top character portrayals which can make it a frustrating experience, especially when any warning about the potential dangers of single-minded activism seems to be breezed over in its somewhat all’s well ending.

 

 

It is difficult to empathise with Lysa. Even though she has right on her side, her raging militancy is off-putting, especially as we witness her refusal to accept other viewpoints or ‘I don’t care’ perspectives which almost cost her close friendships. And although there are three male characters within the story, their responses to Lysa’s assertions appear as mere mentions, dismissed as being ‘part of the problem’ rather than allowed space for consideration.

 

 

Obviously whether audience members will see passionate defiance or stubborn belligerence in Lysa will depend on their personal experiences and life’s journey stage. Thankfully, there is a Greek chorus of freeborn dames (the all-wonderful Barbara Lowing, Roxanne McDonald, Hsiao-Ling Tang) to mix things up. The trio doesn’t just setup the action, serving as Lysa’s persona oracle, but allows for a reprieve from her lack of relent, providing a powerful presence in their punctuating reminder the feminism is not just for the young. In particular, Lowing’s monologue about legacy and post-middle-age liberation from the repression of service to others conveys a moving honesty that makes the audience applaud mid-show. And the trio’s sardonic commentary also offers much dry humour. Indeed, like its Ancient source material, “Lysa and the Freeborn Dames” is very funny, thanks largely to its vibrant supporting cast – prim and proper(ish) fourth generation Miss Weekender (with sash to prove it), Esme (Tatum Mottin) and brash tell-it-as-it-is gutter-mouth Myra (Samantha Lush), who bring an engaging energy to the at-times physical show, especially in its spirited ‘Wild Ones’ dance scene. Also of note are Morgan Francis as the town’s well-intentioned, plucky young caught-in-the-middle policeman and Hugh Parker’s as Lysa’s everyman, good-bloke father who by his own admission, just doesn’t understand.

 

With provocation at its core, this is far from polite theatre. The show begins with a punch of profanities which continues in some way for most of its duration. The words do become wittier as the show ebbs and flows along, but its message sometimes lacks discernment; in touch on big themes like gender, sexuality, politics and sexual politics, there is a lot going on and while sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

 

Turning the international lens inward to feminism in rural Australia makes for an interesting theatrical premise, but working toward social change that takes everyone into consideration is complicated and it is probably for this reason that the show seems to lack a single thesis. From this tangle, there arises much opportunity for discussion though, especially for its target school group audiences, which is the show’s real value, for as Lysa tells her father when he questions her changed appearance and claim not to care what people think, “how is anything going to change if people can’t even have a conversation.”

 

One way or another, Lysa and the Freeborn Dames will evoke a response, whether it be in the form of feelings of frustration or fulfilment, and will, as enticed by its “fury fuelled dramedy” descriptor, generate contemplation and conversation.

 

 

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