“Act or not act.”
The 2500-year-old Greek tragedy, highlighting local talent with a largely amateur cast, is a play of three parts. The audience is informed during the libation to the Gods (a Greek custom where a local community member gives thanks and pours wine around the stage as a sign of respect) that the piece we are about to witness is the only surviving section of Aeschylus’ work. The result is a short but powerful production acknowledging a continual battle for woman’s acceptance and freedom.
Directed by Kamin Gray, The Suppliant Women is a simple story presented plainly. The Royal Exchange’s unusual opening sets the scene for ritual and theatrics but its story is frank and its cast sincere. The Suppliant Women board a boat in Egypt and sail to Argos seeking protection against forced marriages to their cousins.
The women are played by the community chorus, a powerful alliance, chanting primarily as one unit so their intentions are clear. The chorus is intertwined with professional artists such as Gemma May (the Choragos) but largely holds amateur performers who transform the story into an engaging and authentic presentation. As the women land in Greece, they plead with King Pelasgus for asylum. Pleasgus (Oscar Batterham) is torn between protecting the women and the possibilities of war, deciding to offer his people a vote.
The music and movement serve to unite the women and empower their voices. Unfortunately, the style is limited as the entire production has been set on a cold circular breezeblock. The size of the cast also limit the groups movements but emphasises the women's entrapment. However, the infancy of its story and its limited choreography does make the performance slightly repetitive. The pattern does become tiresome even within the productions short, ninety-minute span.
Although the plot is simple, interesting techniques are used to keep the audience engaged. Its universal story is carried by the strong amateur actors who highlight a strength in tradition and authentic performances. I felt connected to the cast of women, wandering into the audience, protesting for their freedom. It is a foreseeable, recurring story that resonates with contemporary audiences.
In the end, are the women given freedom as promised? Part one ends with a democratic vote that accepts the women into Greece. However, based on current events and Aeschylus’ missing segments, we can assume the women’s protests are far from over.