Review: The Suppliant Women

A bold, feminist protest of a performance at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

Hero image

There’s something exhilarating about watching a group of young women stomping onto a stage to showcase their roaring voices and fiery determination.

The chorus performing Aeschylus’s 2,500-year-old play The Suppliant Women at Manchester’s Royal Exchange make their intentions clear from the start: they will not be forced into marriage and they’re all in this together.

The plot follows 50 sisters as they flee their Egyptian homeland and arrive on the shores of Argos, in Ancient Greece. Holding branches bound with white cloth, the women move in formation, begging Zeus to grant them asylum from the clutches of their 50 cousins, who plan to marry them into a lifetime of domestic imprisonment and abuse.

The women are forced to sing their plea for mercy to a torn King Pelasgus, played by Oscar Batterham, who is faced with a Hamlet-esque dilemma: turning the women away would put them in danger, but welcoming them could bring war to the city’s doorstep. The play itself might predate Christianity, but the question of whether or not to grant asylum to those in need cannot fail to strike a chord with a modern audience.

The original script has been revived by Scottish playwright David Greig, and the play is executed by three professional actors and a group of more than 20 volunteers, who deliver their pleas for mercy through a combination of harmonious melodies and expressive dance.

The chorus, led by professional actor Gemma May, puts on an energetic performance as the women tell the king they would rather die than return to Egypt, so the king turns to the people of Argos to decide their fate. The city welcomes the women with open arms, but before long the men sail to Argos to reclaim their prize, and the city is faced with a dilemma.

The performance is a bold, feminist protest, and by the end of the play the chorus’s message is well and truly clear: they want equality for women. I’ll raise a fist to that.

The Suppliant Women is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 1 April

Interact: Responses to Review: The Suppliant Women

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.