The Suppliant Women

Originally written by Aeschylus, adapted by David Greig and directed by Ramin Gray, The Suppliant Women tells the story of fifty women who escape forced marriage in Egypt and seek asylum in Greece.  Using a chorus of Manchester women, it’s a perfect play for the Royal Exchange space, creating a claustrophobic but exciting environment to tell a story of utmost relevance to our lives today.

At the crux of the play is the vote by the citizens of Argos on whether to accept the fifty refugees, and the consequences for all parties of the decisions they have made.  It’s a very relevant question to what is happening today in Greece, in Germany and in the UK.  How does compassion balance the fear of consequences for all concerned?  And in that respect it’s a very powerful play.

The performance is created mainly by the community chorus of fifty young women, led by Gemma May.  It’s a truly awesome spectacle.  From the very first moment where they create the boat on which they arrive, through the near perfect timing of their speech, it is their movement, energy and voices that carry the show.  There is a powerful balance between their hopes of safety and their fears of violation.

There are significant references to traditional Greek theatre.  Before the play starts, thanks are given to those who have ‘paid’ for the play.  Much of the movement and styles are true to Greek theatre.  But the production edges into musical theatre at times and that didn’t sit right with me.   I would question how much drama is lost in an attempt to update both movement and speech; at times the production sits uneasily between the traditional and the modern.

But overall it’s very much a play of our time, with themes that resonate with what is happened in Europe now.  And in terms of the production, it’s the community chorus that both makes, and steals, the show.

Royal Exchange Manchester, 10 Mar – 1 Apr.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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