Review: Lisa's Sex Strike*****

This is one of the best plays to come out of the region recently.

Entertaining, beautifully written, performed with perfect timing, and with a soul, a brain and a hard-hitting message. You can't ask much more from a piece of theatre.

Based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, Skipton-raised Blake Morrison's new script is stunning. Starting out as a broad brush stroke play feeding on the comedy of cruelty, it metamorphoses into a powerful anti-war, libertarian polemic. But, for all that, it never loses sight of the funny bone.

It is a script brought thrillingly to life by Northern Broadsides and the direction and brilliant music of Conrad Nelson. In Morrison's story Lysistrata becomes Lisa, the warring Spartans and Athenians become immigrants and locals in a northern town.

In front of a largely white audience Morrison could have gone for cheap laughs, exploiting the set up of the racial tensions. Initially, he appears to be travelling down this road, making fun of a Muslim woman wearing a veil. He flips expectation on its head in his script, written for the most part in rhyming couplets, by having the Muslim woman stand up for the English women – despite their prejudice towards her – and you realise this is a highly intelligent, unexpected piece of writing.

The play tells the story of a mixed community in a fictional northern town where race riots rage. The women decide to withdraw their sexual services from their husbands until peace is restored.

The empowered women also take over the factory where the men work to "hit them in their wallets as well as their b******s" as one character puts it.

It is in the factory where Morrison begins to peel the layers of his play – it turns out to be an arms factory and the story takes on a global resonance. As the men and women become more frustrated at their sex drought, the play becomes a story about so much more.

What other play would dare discuss Guantanamo Bay, Muslim women wearing veils, suicide bombers, female emancipation, the war in Iraq, the role of men in the home while characters walk around with two foot strap-on phalluses? And just to prove that the play is not an exercise in worthiness, those strap on phalluses sing a barbershop quartet. Hilariously.

As the play pushes towards its final scenes Morrison, who skilfully weaves the comedy with the drama throughout, ups the ante and really starts to bang the drum and make his politics clear.

Broadsides stalwart Simon Holland Roberts as Prutt, the arms factory owner, whips down his personal road to Damascus at lightning speed in a dizzying denouement. With the stark anti-war message ringing in your ears Nelson skilfully blends in a foot-tapping number to send the audience out on a high.

There too many reasons to recommend this play. It's in Halifax until tomorrow and Scarborough at the end of November. See it.

The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax

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