Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Suppliant Women.

Brand new show at the start of the brand new season at the Lyceum under their brand new artistic director.

Adapted by my favourite David Grieg from the original by Aeschylus and featuring a community chorus. A big pack of young women. A smaller pack of older women. Six young-ish men, two surely professional male actors, what I'm deducing was also a professional female actor (the chorus leader) and two musicians. 

It was very ambitious. Very impressive. Fashioned to be incredibly topical. But although I fully expected to leave the theatre harrowed and wept dry, I didnae. And I'm not quite sure why.

The script was excellent. I love Mr Greig's way with words. The seething packs of men wanting to get their teeth into girlflesh was my highlight. I'm not sure how much he fussed with the words in the original to make or enhance the parallels with current displaced peoples. There were lots of Syria references. You'd have had to have lived down a hole for the past few years with no access to news to miss the analogy. 

Theatre to make a political point is (can be) my perfect sort of theatre. So why did I not like it more?

The pack of women - the Suppliants - were marvellously handled. They'd started out, according to the PR, as a pack of 50 though by showtime, seem to have whittled themselves down to approximately 30. This fact gave me some smug satisfaction. So even the Lyceum - a professional theatre - struggle to get people to act for love?! How reassuring. 

But thirty was plenty impressive enough. Having seen a tiny snippet of a rehearsal at the Lyceum Open Day last month, I can imagine they were drilled and drilled and drilled to get the chorus speaking right. And having had only one brush with 'chorus speaking' before - dear 4:48 Psychosis - I'm well aware of how difficult it is to achieve. They spoke marvellously. They moved marvellously.  Visually, the show was spectacular. Hats off to director Ramin Gray and the excellent choreographer, Sasha Milavic Davies, for pulling it off.

I'm not sure how many of the cast were professionals. Two at least.  (Three, it turns out.)  They were all excellent. And unfortunately - inevitably? - provided a harshly stark contrast to the non-professional members of the group who were just a bit - how to say? - less polished. 

The production kind of gets away with it. The lovely set up including the libation to Dionysius (delivered on the night I attended by some MSP) does a cracking job of conveying the idea of theatre as a collective endeavour, representing and exploring the issues of the day. Therefore giving it license to sandwich these varying peoples together. 

The mashing of amateur and professional was particularly interesting given the flack the RSC got earlier this year for casting amateur mechanicals and therefore depriving professionals of income.  The Lyceum seem to have avoided this altogether. Fairly so? Lyn Gardner would say so. Equity did not. Have we all been hoodwinked into accepting slave labour by David Greig's charm? Or will this herald the return of truly inclusive theatre? I think I'm with BS who argues that the show would only ever be cost-effective with a pack of non-paid people taking part. And given the busy-ness of the Lyceum bar on a Thursday night when they're showing a Greek tragedy, I'd say that this was one gamble that's paid off.

I predict a triumphant return for the show in the EIF programme next year. I hope it gets another airing. For its political agenda, for its girl power agenda and for any of the "little people" who feel that their little voice doesn't matter, this is a production bright with hope.


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