Theatre

The Suppliant Women

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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Neil Cooper

four stars

“HOW did it work, this thing called democracy?” one of the multitude of young women onstage asks their old father Danaus, who has returned from arguing the case for this swathe of Egyptian asylum seekers in search of sanctuary in Argos. Given that the first part of Aeschylus' now largely lost Danaid trilogy is two and a half thousand years old, it is quite a question for David Greig's new version of the classical drama to pose as it is brought to the stage by Ramin Gray for this flagship opening production of Greig's new tenure as the Lyceum's artistic director.

It begins with the performers running through the auditorium before lining up onstage as actor Omar Ebrahim introduces a knowing lesson in theatrical economics delivered by a real live MSP Willie Rennie. As an opening gambit drawn from ancient Greek civic ritual, it is as inspired and as relevant as everything that follows in this co-production between the Lyceum and Actors Touring Company.

In the women we can recognise twenty-first century refugees fleeing oppressive misogynist regimes, and in the caution of the Wise Women we see a conformist resistance to other cultures. With Ebrahim, Oscar Batterham as the King and Gemma May as the Chorus Leader the only three professional actors onstage alongside more than fifty volunteers, co-ordinating and navigating such a throng is a mammoth feat in itself. For composer John Browne's massed chorales to be delivered with such choreographed fire as they are is a captivating show of strength. Accompanied by two musicians, these incantations become a primitive form of rap that sees the cast rise up as independent women, stepping out into the world as equals at last.