David Greig has made an astute choice for the opening Royal Lyceum Theatre production of his tenure as artistic director. Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women might be 2,500 years old, but in his own version he ensures that the modern concerns – democracy, public votes, asylum seekers, rape culture and the precipitation of war – are all to the fore.
It is a bold production from director Ramin Gray, too, allowing the company to engage with contemporary Edinburgh by using a 30-strong volunteer cast to play the chorus. On stage throughout, these daughters of Danaus are fleeing forced marriage to their cousins, sons of Aegyptus.
Packed with ritualised movement from choreographer Sasha Milavic Davies and a score by John Browne that feels both contemporary and contemporaneous with ancient Greece, this is all about the power of the people. The three professional actors – Gemma May as the chorus leader, Omar Ebrahim as Danaus, and Oscar Batterham as King of Argos, where the women are seeking asylum – lead the piece, but don’t stand apart from the chorus.
Such an attitude is key to Greig’s ideas about the Lyceum’s future – making it a place of and for the people. Indeed, he adds a preface, explaining how participating in and sponsoring theatre was a citizen’s duty in Aeschylus’ time, before duly offering a libation to the gods of theatre after naming those who have paid for this production – notably the paying ticket holders. And the result augers well for the future.