The Suppliant Women at the Young VicCultureTheatre
We are disappointed in the Young Vic, Actors Touring Company and their PR person who failed to answer our questions regarding rumours of allegations of misconduct from artistic director Ramin Gray ahead of the show’s press night. The allegations have now been confirmed and you can read further on The Guardian here. We, however, respect and praise the hard work of the cast members and artistic team.
We wouldn’t expect cutting-edge from a 2,500-year-old play, but David Greig’s version of Aeschylus’s classic follows painfully modern themes. It’s a story of feminism and asylum in ancient Greece; Northern African refugees seeking safety, and a city scared of the consequences of granting them asylum. The issues are current, but stylistically it’s hard for something so old to feel modern. The team wisely do not try to cover the cracks of age, but instead embrace them.
A large group of North African women (played by actors from London who apparently were only chosen in September) decide to escape a life of forced marriage to men they are disgusted by, and instead flee to Argos, Greece. On arrival, they speak with the King and request his protection. He takes this request to his people for a referendum, and the woman are left to consider their fate as the ships from North Africa sail to collect them. It’s a moving story, and sadly the plot hasn’t dated at all.
The performers all play their parts well. The women are strong, but scared. The king, dressed like a London banker (presumably as a comment on power-shifts over time), is funny and charming. At times, the piece plays like an old-fashioned comedy: there are laughs, but none of them hearty. Nothing dates a story like jokes, comedy moves faster than drama and audience expectations have changed since 470 BC.
When the cast sing together it’s genuinely powerful. The Young Vic is perfect for strong vocal performances, and the whole production sounds amazing. Even the conversations are punctuated with drum beats, which reminds us that we’re watching a play that predates Jesus – it’s not a technique associated with modern performance. The two musicians are exceptional, a percussionist and another on wind instruments. Between them, they fill the room with atmosphere and the show moves to their beat.
This is an interesting play. To judge it, it’s important to remember that it’s as much an historical artefact as a piece of entertainment, and it’s sad that 2,500 years hasn’t changed the global attitude to women as much as our taste in comedy.
The Suppliant Women is at the Young Vic from 13th until 25th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Young Vic Theatre website here.