Robert Tanitch reviews The Suppliant Women at Young Vic, London SW1
Aeschylus (525-456BCE), founder of Greek tragedy and winner of 13 prizes, wrote over 70 plays of which only seven survive. The Suppliant Women (463BCE), more of a ritual than a play, is primarily a choral piece and the chorus is the leading character.
What with the refugee crisis and mass migration and people risking their lives daily, the play, one of the oldest in the world, could not be more topical.
In Ancient Greece the tragedy would have been performed by two or three professionals, a professional musician and a local chorus.
The present production is a co-production between Actors Touring Theatre Company and the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and was created to be performed by a chorus drawn from the community in which the production is performed.
There have been performances with a local chorus in Edinburgh, Belfast and Newcastle. Now it’s London’s turn and the highly drilled chorus is drawn from the boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth.
The play is a feminist protest and the women make it abundantly clear they don’t like men.
The suppliants are the 50 virginal daughters of King Danaos (Omar Ebrahim) who have fled from Egypt to Argos to avoid marrying their cousins, the fifty randy sons of the usurping King Aegyptus.
They ask King Pelasgos for asylum and threaten to commit suicide if he doesn’t give it to them. The king (played with a light touch by Oscar Batterham) is in a quandary: he is cursed if he helps them and cursed if he doesn’t. He says he will ask his people.
The Greeks not only invented theatre, they also invented invented democracy!
The Suppliant Women is rarely performed. It is very difficult to find 50 virgins these days.
The adaptation is by David Grieg, artistic director of Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh. The production is by Ramin Gray, artistic director of Actors Touring Company.
The music by John Browne is haunting and dynamic. The ancient wind instruments make a beautiful sound.
The singing, dancing, clapping and waving of olive branches make for an exhilarating evening of music-theatre. I only wish there had been sur-titles.