David Greig reflects modern events across a gulf of time and tradition with the multifaceted mirror of The Suppliant Women, his season opener as new artistic director of The Lyceum.
The star of the performance is the manifold feminine might of the twenty-seven strong Choir, which — apart from earnestly powerful lead Gemma May — is made up of volunteer performers from in and around the Edinburgh area. As a manifestation of Greig’s inclusive vision of creating theatre for the people, and in this instance, by the people, it is an impressive accomplishment.
Ritualistic and primal, the Choir inhabit Lizzie Clachan’s stark set with a formidable power and presence, always engaging and often arresting. With synchronised movements and polyphonic voice, it embodies the piece’s themes of refuge and inequality, shining a laser light on contemporary world events whilst still firmly rooted in the ancient theatrical traditions of the past.
When it interacts with the play’s few male individual actors, the Choir is a tidal wave of hope, despair and emotion which few would have the presence to be able to face. Omar Ebrahim as the women’s heroically optimistic and protective father is one; Oscar Batterham’s politic but compassionate King is another.
The play is an impressive sum of its parts: Ramin Gray’s urgent direction, Greig’s poetic slam of a translation of Aeschylus’ text, Sasha Milavic Davies’ hypnotic choreography and John Browne’s evocative early music score. But ultimately, in spectacle and in theme, the production belongs to the titular women.
Evolutionary and revolutionary, it is a memorable statement, and a beguiling herald of what promises to be an unmissable season at the Lyceum.
The Suppliant Women runs at The Royal Lyceum until 15 October. Tickets and further information are available on the Lyceum website