The Suppliant Women - review of Aeschylus’ play by the Actors Touring Company at the Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1st April 2017
How does a trip from Sheffield to Manchester to watch a matinee performance of a Greek play compare with the Greek experience?
The Suppliant Women focusses on the Chorus of fifty women who have fled Egypt to avoid unwanted marriage to their cousins. They arrive at Argos, where the king requires a vote of the people to accept the women. (The play apparently contains the first recorded instance of the word democracy.) The people vote overwhelmingly to accept the women and the Argives protect the women when their husbands attack the city.
We were told at the start of the play that the Chorus was made up of local volunteers, and a libation of wine was poured around the stage. Their verse was sung as they moved and danced rhythmically to a specially composed percussion accompaniment. The effect was stunning with over twenty young women filling the stage. The music reflected the mood of the words, with a particularly affecting keening song as they fearfully watched the ships of their cousins approach Argos.
The play had strong contemporary relevance. The women were refugees and suffering abuse at the hands of their future husbands - there was a strong feminist element in the production.
So, although the theatre was not on a sunny hillside with glorious views over the sea or mountains, the production was carefully staged to mirror many of the Greek roots of drama. The volunteer chorus members, libations, the music and movement - this was a very physical performance - together with the contemporary relevance combined to give a feeling of sharing the ancient experience.
There is still the puzzle of why the women form the centrepiece of so many Greek dramas - a discussion to be picked up another day, perhaps.
Kath O'Donovan (U3A Classical groups)