Theatre review: The Suppliant Women - 'Energy, aplomb and a surprising vocal dexterity'

The Suppliant Women at the Gaiety (Dublin Theatre Festival) - 4/5

The daughters of Danaus have come to the Greek city of Argos, across the Mediterranean from Africa, seeking asylum and to escape forced marriage.

Aeschylus wrote this play some 2,500 years ago, but you won’t win any prizes for seeing why David Greig’s new version is being staged in 2017.

The problem these women present to the leaders of Argos — how to balance a moral imperative to help with a duty to maintain societal stability — rings true to Europe’s present dilemmas, and Greig includes a number of lines with a wry eye on to the contemporary. But such is the dynamism, and directness of this work that it lives fully in its own world, and is not a mere vehicle for political analogy.

It’s most eloquent statement about community, and what that means today, and the challenges and opportunities there are as people change, traditions change and definitions of “us” change, comes, perhaps, in the very staging of the work itself. In the tradition of Greek
performance, the small group of professionals from the Actors Touring Company have recruited a 56-strong community chorus from Dublin. The results are uplifting and irresistible.

Unusually for a Greek play, the chorus is the main focus of the action here, rather than a commentator upon it. They are always with us, delivery the bulk of their lines in chanting, choreographed movement.

But the novices so tasked pull it off with energy, aplomb and a surprising vocal dexterity. Sure, they are no professionals. But that adds a certain audacity, and the confidence they have is striking.

A focal point is provided by the magnetic Gemma May as chorus leader, and it’s all propelled by the rhythms and drum beats of Cork-born John Browne’s score, which drives home the poetry of Greig’s lines.


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