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When women flee and ask for help

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The Suppliant Women, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, touring to Belfast, Newcastle“If we help, we invite trouble. If we don’t, we invite shame.”

Fifty women leave everything behind to board a boat in North Africa and flee across the Mediterranean.

They are escaping forced marriage in their homeland, and, hoping for protection and assistance, seeking asylum in Greece.

Written 2,500 years ago by the great playwright Aeschylus, The Suppliant Women is one of the world’s oldest plays.

At the play’s heart are fifty young women in full chorus arguing for their lives, speaking to us through the ages with startling resonance for our times.

The myth of Danaus and his fifty daughters, on which the story is based, is essentially a foundation legend – or rather a re-foundation legend – of Argos, one of the foremost Mycenaean cities of the Peloponnesus.

‘The Suppliants’ does not conform to our expectations of traditional Greek tragic drama in that it has neither hero, nor downfall, nor even tragic conclusion. Instead, the play portrays unresolved conflicts of sexuality, love and emotional maturity.

Aeschylus is the first of the three early Greek tragedians whose plays survive extant, the other two being Sophocles and Euripides.

And Aeschylus, by expanding the number of characters in plays to allow for conflict among them, was arguably the founder of all serious Greek drama. Previously, only a single character had interacted with the Chorus.

The play also pays tribute to the democratic undercurrents running through Athens in advance of the establishment of a democratic government in 461BCE, and the insistence by King Pelasgus that the people of Argos are consulted is a distinct nod in favour of democracy.

Part play, part ritual, part theatrical archaeology, it offers an electric connection to the deepest and most mysterious ideas of the humanity – who are we, where do we belong and if all goes wrong – who will take us in?

A co-production with the Actors Touring Company, The Suppliant Women features a chorus of young women from Edinburgh playing the title role.

Re-uniting the creative team behind the acclaimed production ‘The Events’, The Guardian’s best play of 2013, ‘The Suppliant Women’ uses the techniques of Ancient Greek theatre of bringing the community to participate in plays and recruits and trains citizens of Edinburgh – to create an extraordinary theatrical event.

The Suppliant Women is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh from 1-15 October 2016 and then on tour to Belfast and Newcastle. For details click here.

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