Writer: David Greig
Composer: John Browne
Director: Ramin Gray
Reviewer: S.E. Webster
2,500 years ago, the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote a play that he probably never imagined would be now treading the boards of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Nor could he have imagined that his drama would still be extremely topical thousands of years later. From immigration to women’s rights to the refugee crisis, this new version scratches the surface of the original to reveal a whole host of current affairs issues.
An ambitious project, the community chorus of suppliant women, drawn from the people of Edinburgh, are placed centre stage and at the forefront of this production. To increase engagement between the city and the theatre, many performers have been selected for their lack of performing arts experience. In light of which, this is a very impressive unit that works well together. Particularly effective are the scene transitions where the chorus creates the sounds of the meadow or night falling. Likewise, they give a solid performance in the closing segment; confident and poised.
Unfortunately, some of the synchronised movement isn’t sharp or clean enough. while the harmonies and recurring melodies work well, it would also be nice to see more complex choral work more frequently in this production.
Moreover, the wardrobe of the suppliant women isn’t really consistent enough, so they do not visually appear as a strong, cohesive unit, though clear costume decisions have been taken for the soldiers, Egyptians and wise women.
The professional actors, Oscar Batterham, Omar Ebrahim and Gemma May are all extremely well cast. In particular Omar Ebrahim, as the father figure Danaus, has a hugely expressive voice and really exploits the rhythmic nature of the verse.
The stripped back set exposing the inner mechanics and workings of the stage and works well. Subtle contrasts such as the Egyptians flaming torches against the contained, glowing lanterns of the women are another example where the production successfully enhances the underlying contradictions of the drama.
The contrast between old and new is further embellished by the fresh musical compositions of John Browne. Drawing on both secular and religious music, we are treated to ancient instruments like the Aulos that produces an eerily uncanny sound, complementing the women’s choral work.
Theatregoers hunting for serious frowns and solid Greek masks must carry on searching. This is a fresh, contemporary production of an ancient drama that proves the city of Argos is not so very distant from the city of Edinburgh.
Runsuntil Saturday 15 October 2016| Image:Stephen Cummiskey