Traditionally, stereotypically and unjustly women's voices have been thought of as weaker than men's throughout history. This, however, was not the case tonight. The thirty five strong female chorus was heard loud and clear. They were never spoken over or beat down during the one hour, no interval play.
During an introduction, we are welcomed to the play by giving thanks to the benefactors and also to the young girls of the city who had given their time to be in the play, just as they would have done in ancient Greece. This all felt very ritualistic and completely set the tone for the rest of the play.
Taking on a 2,500 year old Aeschylus play, David Greig, brought it bang up to date. With mentions of Syria and the need for shelter, one can’t help but see the images that constantly appear in the news. These women were no different and had fled their homeland of Egypt to get away from marriages they weren't happy to enter into with their cousins.
The chorus entered from outside the space as a collective, each with a Suppliant branch. They performed a sequence of steps, in a very metronome like movement, taking them forward into the centre of the performance space. Sitting in the gallery of the Royal Exchange Theatre really allows you to see the patterns made by these incredible movements. The choreography, created by Sasha Milavic Davies and led by Josephine Hepplewhite, was truly wonderful. As chorus leader Gemma May was the obvious standout performer. However, this was not just for her singled out lines but for her presence on stage. Drawing the eye when needed and blending into the chorus when required. Her fluid movements, strong voice and complete control of her body were compelling to watch. Her command of the space and people in it was mesmerising and her ability to touch on enough character to gain empathy yet stay a part of the chorus was incredible.
Along with their caring and protective father, Danaos, played beautifully by Omar Ebrahim, the girls came to a temple outside Argos and are met with Pelasgos, King of Aros. Styled like a young politician, he is wary of the women. Worried if he does not let them in he will offend Zeus, however giving them sanctuary in his city may bring violence from the men the women have escaped from. Torn, Pelasgos puts a vote to the city, allowing the people to decide if the women can stay. Primarily put off by the King’s up and coming MP type hand gestures the king is hard to like in the first scene. However his careful deliberation of the situation, ingenious vote idea and careful execution of the plan creates a caring, fair and steadfast leader. This nuanced performance, with a few hilarious one liners, is performed to perfection by Oscar Batterham.
Ending on a complete cliff hanger, this first part of Aeschylus trilogy is the sole survivor. Luckily the epilogue in the programme tells you how the series continues but this just makes you yearn for more after the performance.
Never bored by the almost constant rhythmic speaking or singing, the movement, when paired with music by composer and musical director John Browne was extremely powerful. I would even go as far as to say this is the most powerful and best use of a chorus I have ever seen. Congratulations to all involved especially the girls of Manchester who have volunteered their time for this play. It truly was a beautiful spectacle, completely relevant and gave me multiple goose bump moments.
Reviewer: Charlotte Green
Reviewed: 14th March 2017
North West End Rating: ★★★★★