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The Suppliant Women

By Aeschylus

Royal Exchange Theatre, 14 March 2017


David Grieg’s new version of Aeschylus’ great tragedy, a dramatisation of the myth of the fifty daughters of Danaos, is exciting from beginning to end.

The young women come to Argos as suppliants, having fled Egypt to escape forced marriage to their so-called barbarian cousins. So now the question becomes whether they will be granted asylum, and at what cost.

Though the contemporary resonance of the play is clear, it is never laboured, and those who like their Greek tragedies served straight, no nonsense, will be well satisfied here. My one qualm with Grieg’s version of the text is that it does not make it plain that while Danaos and his daughters are granted protection and asylum they are not given full citizenship rights. Instead, they are given the status of resident aliens (metics or metoikoi), not citizens, by the Argive assembly. And I expect there were many Argives who saw the newcomers as bogus Greeks, barbarians even… (Though it is interesting to note here that Aeschylus’ text remarks, without prejudice of any kind, on the girls’ dark skin.)

This production uses song and dance and music to great dramatic effect; and even when the actors speak there is music, the effect being to make you happily and acutely aware of the rhythm and metre present in the spoken dialogue. For this we must praise the two musicians, Ben Burton and Callum Armstrong. I got a lot out of this excellent, exciting, thought-provoking Royal Exchange production.

The Suppliant Women is showing at the Royal Exchange until 1 April, further details can be found here.