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‘The Suppliant Women’

Aeschylus’s The Suppliant Women tells the story of the Danaiids, women of Egypt threatened by rape and forced marriage, who flee across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Greece. Its themes of war, migration, sexual violence and sanctuary are so resonant that last December the Los Angeles Times asked whether anyone would risk adapting it. In Scotland, David Greig, the artistic director of Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, was already preparing to do just that.

 The play opens with the parados of the suppliant women: a parade in a slow, lowing song that mourns their loss of home, carrying sticks wound with the white wool of suppliants (“the worries of women and exiles are endless,” they sing). They claim descent from Io, the Greek maiden raped by Zeus, and ask for asylum in her name. But the ruler Pelasgos, in lines that could be taken from today’s crisis summits on migration, fears that accepting them will destabilize his city. Only when the suppliants threaten to hang themselves in the temple does he relent. In one of the most spectacular scenes, the Egyptian men come to claim them by night but are beaten back: the suppliants clutch weak candles against the flamed torches of the violators. Accepted into the city, the women are urged to take Greek husbands but refuse, and the chorus concludes with their exodos, or final ode.

The composer, John Browne, has resurrected an ancient musical scale and written a score for the five choral odes delivered by the women. The “orchestra” is contemporary to the play: skin drums, bells, and an aulos—a double-barreled Greek flute copied for this production from an original in the Louvre. The speeches are delivered as rhythmically and sonorously as the score.

Aeschylus offers no neat redemptions for any of the play’s characters, and neither does David Greig. But the immense value of this production lies in the safe space it offers to explore timeless but urgent questions: how do we contain tyranny and transcend violence, and what are our obligations as a demos when war flares along our borders?

For more information, visit northernstage.co.uk

Category: Theater
Northern Stage
Barras Bridge,
Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear