AMI JONES makes entirely appropriate dick jokes in the course of reviewing the Marlowe Society’s May Week effort.
St John’s Scholars’ Garden, 24th-25th June, 7.30pm, £5
Directed by Máirín O’Hagan and Celine Lownethal
The Greeks are pretty annoying. Here we are, all pleased with ourselves about our intelligence and sophistication or whatever, and then a massive dick like Aristophanes comes along and proves that we’ve not really advanced in 2,500 years.
You remember that time when you first realised that your parents were once young, hot, and boning each other? Remember how weird that felt? Yeah, well, now imagine a guy who’s been dead for over two millennia telling what you always thought was your most original penis joke before your great-great-great-grandpa was even close to being a little tadpole-looking thing. And he tells it way better than you can ever hope to.
Unfortunately old Aristo’s chaps were also probably rocking Lysistrata back in the B.C. a little harder than the Marlowe Society were managing in John’s Scholars’ Garden.
The translation selected for performance was by far the biggest and most unnecessary stumbling block placed in front of an otherwise competent cast. Theatrical legend it may be, but that doesn’t mean it quite transcends modern taboos and moral codes (casual references to domestic violence aren’t quite so LOL these days, I gather).
There was also an awkward variation in how far the production wanted to shock and thrill with its lewd humour. One moment the dialogue coyly alluded to ooh-slightly-naughty Coward-esque willy metaphor, and the next we were suddenly discussing “throbbing cocks” in excruciating detail.
Similarly, Howe, Krsljanin and Parker-Rees’ massive foam penises were brilliantly obscene, but sat very uncomfortably when played alongside the comparatively conservative jolly banter happening between the male and female choruses.
It also made me deeply unhappy that in one of the few female-dominant plays seen in Cambridge (or indeed, general history), the men outshone the women shamelessly. James Swanton, Jack Oxley, James Morris and Daniel Unruh must all be commended for their brilliant appearance in the apparently unexciting role of ‘Male Chorus’. A group of doddering, silly old men, they all managed to strike the tricky balance between creating strong individual characters without overacting and overpowering the rest of the action. Toby Parker-Rees was the only actor who successfully manipulated moments of ridiculously archaic penile slang into a source of comedy, while James Parris displayed beautifully understated moments of physical humour.
The presence of a male a cappella group providing hits such as ‘Can’t Touch This’ and ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ in-between scenes was a lovely and surprisingly hilarious modern addition. It was a real shame to waste an opportunity to use them in a more clever and original way. Here, Lowenthal and O’Hagan displayed the potential ability they had to make a wonderfully silly play even more accessibly wonderful and silly. Sadly, all we received in that respect was the gents slouching up in plain view from beside the audience every ten minutes, disappointingly clad in civilian attire.
The play did not fail to tickle my comic depths with its probing humour, but was more a cheeky poke than a full-on romp. Nonetheless, I still recommend jumping into the sack with this delightful and refreshing piece. (I did warn you his jokes were better than mine).