The Suppliant Woman by Aeschylus Royal Exchange, Manchester
It’s not often you get to say that you watched a play that is 2500 years old. So, I’ll say it now: I watched a play that is 2500 years old. Aeschylus’ opening and only living remainder of his lost trilogy is an epic that shares the story of 50 Egyptian women fleeing their country to escape the grips of the cousins they are betrothed to, and heading to Greece to seek sanctuary.
35 young women fill the round – singing, chanting, dancing, praying and seeking. As they move with grace and intention, we see each of these women’s individual qualities and quirks emerge. The strong collective energy of this ensemble creates a definitive sense of unity and commitment to both one another and their cause. However, the energy ceases there.
This is supposedly a play about women’s rights and empowerment but whilst there is an attempt at an exploration of the former, the latter was lacking to say the least. In the presence of the men, the women were more often than not kneeling and hanging on their words – this is not an example of empowerment, it is an example of why we still need feminism. Taking in to consideration the time at which this play was written, it is not surprising that patriarchy takes a dominant place within its structure. However, surely a modern day take on this theatrical relic could have been more aware of itself and the message it is giving to an audience. The dominance of the male characters and the women’s dependency on their decisions cannot be overcast by their choral singing. If anything, it is a reminder that, within patriarchal structures, women challenging the status quo are perceived as noise and nothing more. This is a falsehood that needs to be challenged and it was unfortunate that whilst this challenge proposed itself through the physicality of the piece, it failed to follow through on this hopeful spark.
I did not leave The Suppliant Woman feeling empowered. Empowerment is a development in strength, confidence and power, it is growth in one’s ability to make their own decisions and move forward. The stagnation of progress expressed in this piece left me feeling tired – tired of the long road ahead. But, it also left me even more confident that a feminist revolution is what will evoke change.