Part of the movement

Lysistrata is a renowned anti-war play by Aristophanes - the Athenian playwright who lived over the years 448-388 BC. Old in terms of time, his play is certainly not out of date politically. Recognising the contemporary power of Lysistrata, artists throughout the world put on performances of the play on March 3 as part of a coordinated protest against the US-UK war against Iraq. The play was seen by audiences in four continents, showing the possibilities for far-reaching international cultural engagement as part of the new and exciting period that is opening up. Artists Against the War staged Lysistrata with Doug Holton as director at the Unitarian Church, Newington Green. Afterwards Anne Mc Shane talked to actor Zoe Simon about her involvement and the role for artists in the fight against the war

What is Lysistrata about? Aristophanes was writing during a period of Greek history where there had been constant war for about 20 years. Athens was intent on expanding its empire and was at war with other city-states. It was using its powerful navy to impose hegemony and exact tribute. Aristophanes felt the war was not about justice but about greed. He wrote the play to stir people against the war and used women as the central characters to show the power he felt they had. But the play is about women going on sex strike against the war. What did this symbolise? This was about his belief in matriarchy. Aristophanes is known to have great regard for women and was especially respectful of his mother. He believed that the way women did things was better. Here the women are shown to be the rational ones who refuse to be silenced any longer. They use the only weapon they have to force the men to make a peace. What is its significance today? This is part of a worldwide protest. As an actor it is important to me that I can use my talent in this way. It gives me heart to think that people are performing this in Sydney, Belgrade, Ramallah and the United States. There are apparently some famous actors performing it in Los Angeles. It's about us as actors using our skills to protest against the war and doing something that people can relate to. What contribution do you think Artists Against the War can make? People are often turned off speeches and find them meaningless. They feel disenfranchised and alienated from politics as it is traditionally perceived. I think artists can find another way to get the message across which people will listen to and get something from. I would like to do more performances of Lysistrata and other plays. I think we should be looking at using all kinds of new spaces - community halls, churches, mosques, schools. I think we need to make this art as accessible as possible. This is not just about the war. It's about wider questions of democracy. I see it as a way of promoting extreme democracy in Britain. How do you link your art with your politics personally? I have always been attracted to communism. The problem with liberal democracy is that it allows people to be passive. People aren't involved and the rulers can get away with doing things we don't want them to do. But communism has been seen so negatively - it's been associated with Stalinism and authoritarianism rather than democracy. I believe that communism is about extreme democracy, not bloodshed. I decided to become active after February 15. I found so much leftwing literature on the march. I met a lot of dedicated people. I feel I can be part of this movement - I can be included. Artists against the War * artistsagainstthewar@hotmail.com * www.artistsagainstthewar.org.uk * www.stopwar.org.uk