A community chorus gives tremendous power to this witty adaptation of Aeschylus's ancient play
The weight of millennia can rest pretty heavy on Greek tragedies. But David Greig’s witty, forceful adaptation of Aeschylus’s 470 BC play and its community cast turn ‘The Suppliant Women’ into something pretty extraordinary.
In a show that deliberately toys with anachronism there are numerous witty flourishes – the show commences with a libation ceremony – but it’s really almost entirely about the community chorus. They’re a selection of young women recruited from Southwark and Lambeth, trained up since September (the co-production with Actors Touring Company, which began life at Greig's Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, recruits different choruses for each city).
‘I’ll be dead, but at least I’ll be free: from sadness, from men’ the women chant, in unison, somewhere near the climax of what is to all intents and purposes, one long, intense, ritualistic song-and-dance routine. It is terrifically powerful – not to mention empowering – stuff, as under the tutelage of vocal leader Mary King and choreographer Sasha Milavic Davies, the 27-strong group synchronize for a long, visceral passage of movement and song that achieves an implacable momentum.
It’s also topical. The plot is rudimentary: a group of women flee the prospect of forced marriage in Egypt, instead heading for their ancestral homelands of Argos. They are met by the mild-mannered King Pelagos (Oscar Batterham), who is reluctant to grant the women sanctuary, aware that the Egyptians won’t be happy. The women declare that they’d rather hang themselves here than be forced back to be violated.
It has a simple message, but one backed up with tremendous power and heart: that it is morally right to take in those fleeing persecution and that is is morally wrong to coerce others. Zeus knows the theatre industry hasn’t always been a shining beacon of moral clarity, but ‘The Suppliant Women’ and its performers feel wonderfully righteous.