The Suppliant Women

Theatre Bouquets 2016

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We’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing theatre again in 2016. Here, in order of viewing (and with the benefit of hindsight), are our favourite productions of the year.

Hangmen – Wyndham’s Theatre, London

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An excellent start to the year’s theatrical viewing, Martin McDonagh’s play was absolutely superb: funny, frightening and thought-provoking with an outstanding central performance by David Morrissey.

The Girls – The Lowry, Salford

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This was the biggest surprise of the year for us: on paper, it sounded a million miles away from the sort of thing we usually enjoy, and we went along reluctantly. But it was a truly delightful production – flawlessly realised.

The Merry Wives – The Lowry, Salford

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Northern Broadsides version of The Merry Wives of Windsor was a rambunctious, irreverent take on the tale, with the inimitable Barrie Rutter clearly relishing the role of Falstaff.

I Am Thomas – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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A strange and eclectic production, telling the tale of Thomas Aikenhead, the last person in Scotland to be hanged for blasphemy, this was essentially a series of vignettes and musical interludes, with an ensemble taking turns to play the eponymous role.

King Lear – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

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Michael Buffong’s King Lear was a tour de force, a gimmick-free yet undeniably modern production. Don Warrington was well-cast in the central role, but it was Pepter Lunkuse’s Cordelia who really stood out for us. She’s definitely one to watch!

Stowaway – Home, Manchester

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Analogue Theatre’s troubling tale of a stowaway falling from a flying aeroplane and landing in the car park of a DIY store was fascinating, depicting a moment where worlds collide and understandings begin to take root. A thought-provoking, political play.

Royal Vauxhall – Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh

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A quirky and irreverent musical, telling the true story of when Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett dressed Princess Diana in drag and took her to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London for a night out, incognito. We loved this production.

Wonderman – Underbelly Potterrow, Edinburgh

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Based on the short stories of Roald Dahl – and incorporating a true incident from his eventful life – Gagglebabble’s collaboration with the National Theatre of Wales was a sprightly mix of drama and music with a deliciously dark heart.

Cracked Tiles – Spotlites, Edinburgh

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This beautifully crafted monologue, written and performed by Lorenzo Novani, was the downbeat tale of a young man who inherits a Glasgow fish and chip shop from his father Aldo. Novani was quite staggering as Riccardo.

Dear Home Office – Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh

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This was the story of unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in the UK, performed with touching vulnerability by eight refugee boys. The play was an amalgamation of the performers’ own experiences, blended with fictional accounts. A raw and truthful exposé.

The Suppliant Women – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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It’s a rare thing indeed when you go into a theatre and are treated to something unique – but that is the word that kept coming to us, as we sat entranced in the stalls of The Lyceum, watching David Greig’s production of The Suppliant Women. Truly brilliant.

Grain in the Blood – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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A real one-off, this was a stark, unnerving chiller, at once contemporary and classical, with dialogue that was taut and ultra-modern in style, all fragments and silences and unfinished thoughts. This was a complex, angular, unwieldy play – a fascinating watch.

Jack and the Beanstalk – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

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By far the best panto we have ever seen, this was a standout production, with fantastic performances from King’s Theatre regulars Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott. It brought the year to a celebratory end.

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The Suppliant Women

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Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

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It’s a rare thing indeed when you go into a theatre and are treated to something unique – but that is the word that kept coming to me, as I sat entranced in the stalls of The Lyceum, watching David Greig’s production of The Suppliant Women. Written by Aeschylus two thousand, five hundred years ago, this wasn’t the usual contemporary adaptation of classic Greek theatre, but an attempt (costumes aside) to present it pretty much as it must have been performed in its original incarnation, complete with libations of wine and milk, choral odes and synchronised movement.

Add to this the fact that the cast of more than fifty performers is composed mostly of amateurs and you might have some notion of what an ambitious production this is, but you certainly won’t be prepared for the skill and grace with which the performers deliver their roles. Here’s a chorus, speaking as one, where you can hear every single word – a chorus that moves around the crowded stage with uncanny precision. They have only been rehearsing this since early September, yet their dedication shows at every turn.

The story may be thousands of years old and yet it’s remarkably prescient for our troubled times. The women of the title have fled their native Egypt where they are being forced to marry their cousins and, accompanied by their father, Danaaus (Omar Ebrahim), they arrive in Argos, seeking asylum. They take shelter in the temple of Zeus where they are met by The King (Oscar Batterham) who feels conflicted about their presence – to turn them away will offend Zeus, but the King is also aware that the local populace may take against these women, who are after all, migrants – and what if their presence here should cause a war between Argos and Egypt?

Skilfully directed by Ramin Grey, with musical accompaniment of percussion and Aulos (a traditional double-reeded instrument), this is a feast for the senses. The performance area is a bare breeze block paved space, that utilises the whole depth of the Lyceum’s curtainless stage, but there’s wonderfully atmospheric lighting (a scene set in near darkness where every woman carries a lantern is particularly effective) and plaudits must go to chorus leader, Gemma May, who manages to deliver all of her potentially tongue-twisting lines with absolute authority. If the idea of watching traditional Greek drama leaves you cold, don’t be misled – this is a riveting slice of theatre that deserves a wide audience.

Go, enjoy. There may not be a show like this one for another two thousand, five hundred years.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney