Strata Inc is Laura Lethlean and Faran Martin’s ‘response’ to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – but the text has moved a long way from the original inspiration. Strata Inc is set in the world of high finance, with a struggle for control between a brother and a sister trapped in a crisis engineered by the patriarch, their father. (That’s the underlying connection with Aristophanes: men still call the tune.)
The patriarch, CEO of a huge finance firm has died, struck by lightning on the golf course. The funeral’s over and now the son Andrew (Jordan Fraser-Trumble), a lazy, none too bright young man is poised to take over – shepherded and subtly advised by his assistant and wife Angie (Jessica Martin). If only Andrew can remember the combination to the safe containing his father’s will… When he tries it, there’s a loud and scary announcement that he’s wrong. The cleaner, Mariella (Siobhan Connors) emerges from the loo. How awkward. Soon Andy’s loud, blokey mates from lower down the totem pole, Dave (Pat Moonie) and Barry (Mark Salvestro) burst in, half pissed but bearing yet more champagne, and twist Andy’s arm to celebrate. And then there’s the patriarch’s executive assistant, Rachel (Phoebe Anne Taylor). With all that set-up in place, the catalytic Lysa (Jessica Stanley), the daughter, Andy’s sister, arrives to the consternation of Andy and the incredulous hostility of everyone else. Lysa (Lisa-strata) claims that father left the firm to her. A plot contrivance gets Andy out and then locks the room and closes down the building, trapping all the rest…
Director Faran Martin does very well moving all these characters around the very small stage that must stand in for the financial empire CEO’s office. Nevertheless, the characters are all in place for a strong and very contemporary debate. Lysa is a feminist with a capital ‘F’, a published self-help author, a believer in ethical investment, and the heroine of star struck cleaner Mariella. Completely convinced that the company is hers, Lysa announces her plans and puts down the men for questioning her. Dave is a pig. Barry probably is too. But Angie is a doormat. Rachel is a pragmatist…
What we could have had here is an absurdist Bunuel-esque situation or a fine old Shavian debate. But instead Ms Lethlean and Ms Martin make their Lysa a harridan who speaks in psycho-socio-babble or clichés. The writing makes Lysa grating and one dimensional, and seems to hamper Ms Stanley, an award-winning actress. Angie remains sweet throughout – a pity because Ms Martin can do nasty very well too – as she’s proved in previous productions. Ms Taylor’s Rachel is rather underwritten – a waste of an interesting, dignified actress and also of the level-headed, ‘common sense’ character she plays. Mariella remains daffily in awe of Lysa, no matter how much of an incomprehensible bully she is revealed to be. Barry steps out of the melee to advise Mariella how to set up a company for her home cleaning products – and it’s a nice little twist that Barry is not really a loud-mouth chauvinist – he’s just a sensitive coward who plays along with Dave. Pat Moonie is a very convincing misogynist Dave (the most real character on stage), but he gets only a couple of lines to debate Lysa – and there’s no pay-off. One of those lines is to do with the fact that the firm exists to make rich people richer – i.e. Lysa’s idealistic plans will lead swiftly to collapse. Lysa appears not to hear this. In fact, no one really debates Lysa; she just harangues on until a sort of deus ex machina plot twist silences her. I can’t help suspecting that the playwrights might want us to take Lysa seriously – her take-over putsch makes up the bulk of the play – as they refer to their text as ‘decisively political’. Alternatively – and confusingly - they have set out to make Lysa ridiculous even though her aims are admirable if naïve, and her analysis of the other characters is fundamentally correct.
The idea for this play is a good one, but I’d argue that it goes awry in its realisation and execution. Not, I should add, fatally. Despite all my criticisms, it still has that essential ingredient of the audience wanting to know what happens next. Will Lysa prevail? Will Dave punch her lights out? To whom has Father really left the firm? (Leave aside why Father has bothered with his elaborate test joke.) Will Angie be less obliging? Will Andy become a mensch and a better father? Our wanting to see how it all turns out pulls us through what could have been a lot better than it is.
Images: Sare Clarke Photography