The Suppliant Women
- Gareth K Vile
- 8 September 2016
Seeing the present through the lens of the past
David Greig begins his tenure as artistic director at the Lyceum with a bold choice, adapting Aeschylus' The Suppliant Women. 'It is one of the oldest plays in existence,' he explains, 'written at the moment when theatre and democracy were beginning, at the point where Athens was becoming an empire, and had to deal with immigration.' Not only is Greig placing the play in a tradition reaching back to classical Greece, he uses the tradition to engage with a pressing concern through a mythological plot.
'Fifty women from Egypt ask the king for asylum,' he explains, 'If he takes them in, he invites war: if he doesn't, he brings pollution for refusing suppliants. He doesn't know how to respond, so he puts it to a vote.' This early description of a democracy marks a foundational moment of western civilisation, and theatre is part of the conversation.
Reuniting Greig with director Ramin Gray and composer John Browne – the team behind his Fringe success, The Events – the production also reintroduces a lost instrument, the aulos, once used in Greek tragedies.
Recognising that Athenian drama comes from a distant culture, Greig balances familiar themes against the unfamiliarity of the tragic format: he emphasises the 'highly poetic, highly formal language, and its ritual nature'. But more than this, he concludes, 'it's an incredible way to look at the issues through the prism of a two and a half thousand-year-old script.'
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 1–Sat 15 Oct.