Fifty daughters of Danaus seek refuge in Greece fleeing from forced marriage in Egypt. Fifty local Scottish women are recruited to tell their tale through chant and dance in David Greigâ€™s updating of the play by Aeschylus. Thus spanning over more than 2500 years the eternal themes of displacement, feminism and democracy are presented to us in â€œSuppliant Womenâ€.
Itâ€™s an ambitious project, beautifully executed. The vibrant cast of young locals show an astonishing degree of disciplined movement and harmonic unity. Staying true to Greek tradition, a revered statesman – Willie Rennie – appears on stage to open the performance with a libation – a bottle of red wine poured along the stage.
Absolutely central and crucial to the play, however, is the music, composed and directed by John Browne. His use of a wide range of chant styles – plain chant, tribal chant, war chant – forms the structure to this music. Creating the correct musical pitch is the Aulos, a double reed double pipe instrument used two and a half thousand years ago now recreated, and hauntingly played by Callum Armstrong.
That the second oldest play in the world has resonance with our times is, however, in no small way depressing. Refugees are still fleeing, men are still aggressors, good deeds still bring dire consequences. A democratic vote by the people welcomes the women to Argos, but Argos will suffer as a result.
â€œIf we help, we invite trouble. If we donâ€™t we invite shame,â€ is a key line at the heart of the play. Equally problematic is the confident assertion from the women, worn down by oppression and aggression, that they will not marry until they are dead, a refutation of love and Aphrodite which by definition could only stifle growth and rebirth.
The choreography by Sasha Milavic Davies is incredible. The cast are seldom still. From their first flowing movements as the refugee ship arriving, to their last defiant political gestures, these women move as one. The feeling of unity is palpable. Itâ€™s a strong play that makes us think, a political play that engages us as community, and a powerful performance which binds Ancient Greece and the Athens of the North.
Lyceum Theatre until October 15th