The Suppliant Women is perhaps one of the oldest plays we have a copy of. Written by Aeschylus almost 2,500 years ago, it was one of the major pieces in Greek theatre – usually performed as part of the ‘Danaid’ trilogy. Play 2 and Play 3 are lost to us but we still have a rough idea of how they concluded.
Historically The Suppliant Women is an extremely valuable piece of literature with the first recorded use of the word demo-cray and can be dated to just before the introduction of democracy to Athens by a majority citizen vote. Following the story of the fifty daughters of Danaus, the Danaids, we watch them run from forced marriages to cousins in Egypt journeying to Argos where they plead with the King to offer them asylum. After a positive vote by the citizens of the city of Argos the women are put under the protection of the city and the King prevents the Egyptians from stealing them back.
A number of the themes throughout the play are very relevant to Britain’s current political status. Focusing on the subject of immigration and whether to help asylum seekers if it brings war and problems onto the host nation, it strikes quite deeply with the contemporary audience. David Greig made an interesting choice with this as his first proper production with the Lyceum as Artistic Director. Intriguing to say the least, starting something new with something so ancient. It has been in the works since before he was hired, having talked about it with Ramin Grey as he told the Young Perspective in an interview earlier this year.
Using the repertoire for the 50 women, casting from young volunteers from Edinburgh and surrounding areas, and the wise woman of Argos, again from volunteers, it was interesting to see unprofessional actors on stage alongside the three main professional actors. The fifty strong women chorus was exceptionally well choreographed holding their own on stage for a full hour and a half. Led by the talented Gemma May, the chorus leader, they were the stars of the show, strong, passionate and magnetic on stage. Oscar Batterham was fantastic as the King – his voice of reason cut through the often shamanic chants of the woman and allowed the narrative to continue forward. Omar Ebrahim took two roles, that of Danaus and the Egyptian herald, the distinction between both his characters was too little – they both merged into a slightly lecherous over-effusive man, one on the girls side the others against.
It was a strong performance from the company but one I found slightly disappointing for the first production of this season. There was a slight lack of polish across the whole performance, perhaps due to the fact the majority of the cast were volunteers, albeit talented as a group. However it was a strong adaptation of an ancient script and an enjoyable evening out.