“They do lovely huddled sounds of the night too, complete with sheep and Peloponnesian crickets.”
Does it really come down to drink: a muscular Greek wine, £5.50 from Tesco say, against Egyptian small beer? Well, the libation was a full-bodied red and it went down a treat, all down the front of the stage in fact, and the bladdered sons of Aegyptos are repelled. The 50 refugee daughters of Danaus are safe in Argos – for now – protected by Zeus, the popular will, and by their father, whose clear head and savvy style suggests that he’s teetotal.
The Suppliant Women is heady, old theatre. Aeschylus wrote it for Athenians of his time (the demos of 500BC) and David Greig gives us his 90 minute version for our duty-free enfranchised time, when ‘border security’ matters and our leaders debate migrant quotas. Nevertheless and to its credit, as directed by Ramin Grey, this stays a civic piece, obliged to its community, retaining Aeschylus’ Chorus of (local) young women who seek asylum from forced marriage. It also – and very admirably – features original music by John Browne for percussion and aulos, single and double. What’s not to respect?
The Chorus is 36 determined volunteers from Edinburgh with a standout leader (Gemma May) and they have the angel’s share of the drama. The bare stage is all theirs, from top to bottom, side to side. It is sacred ground, a temple refuge supposedly, offering plenty of room for choreographed movement with some dance elements. Expert vocal direction from Stephen Deazley means that the devoted choral odes make sense and create their own rhythm and sway. They do lovely huddled sounds of the night too, complete with sheep and Peloponnesian crickets.
But still Father Danaus (Omar Ebrahim) presides. He is neat and conspicuous in black amongst the colourful mix of his daughters’ casual dress and his words are sage to the point, I thought, of being on a direct line to Zeus, which rather diminishes his daughters’ impressive praying. Pelasgos (Oscar Batterham), King of Argos, is the younger man and his sharp suit and tie speak ‘Lawmaker’. And, fair dues, he’s the one who has the job to do. How to convince his people to let these foreign women in? Sensitive. He pauses to consider the often terrible consequences of intervening in ‘another man’s war’ but, when in doubt and as quick as a Prime Minister in a jam, he decides: let the people vote … with some help from my silver tongue.
It is, actually, post-referenda, wildly familiar, if that’s not a paradox. The citizenry mistrusts authority, sees stitch-ups at its expense, and has faith only in the gods. Ah, but which god? And here’s where The Suppliant Women is mischievous and – in its modern semblance – a little muddled. For Aphrodite, she of lust and love, wants in on the act (and is in the cast photos of the suppliants, on p9 of the programme). If the women are saved from their Egyptian pursuers, why not – to honour the goddess – give themselves to their rescuers, the virile men of Argos? Father D, with an astonishing cherry metaphor, says “No, keep yourselves chaste”; whilst Zeus, ‘unknowable and unfathomable’, stays shtum. It is, at its stirring close, when the audience is face to face with Justice-For-Women, an appealing mash-up of the classic and the ballsy.
Reviewer: Alan Brown(Seen 4 October)
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